Chef Greg Martin’s Food and Wine Travel: Portland Oregon and the Willamette Valley

I love Pinot Noir and there is no better place on earth for this varietal than the Willamette Valley, period.  Yes, yes, I know my palate leans towards French wines and Bistro Menil’s wine menus are dominated by delicious French choices, but with climatic changes and the steady improvement of Oregon wines, Oregon Pinot Noir is currently wearing the crown.  Since we have a couple of excellent wines from Oregon, I thought I’d finally visit the wineries, try a couple of highly regarded restaurants and take in a bit of nature.

Day one (late arrival day):
After a late flight into Portland, we made my way downtown to Hotel Lucia a small and cozy hotel featuring an ultra-cool lobby that is definitely a nod to the city’s cool but relaxed vibe.  The hotel restaurant Imperial is headed by award winning chef Vitaly Paley.  Too late for dinner, we settled in at Imperial with a glass of local Pinot Noir and an appetizer.  Our server was very engaging, sharing her great knowledge of the local wine scene, plus the food and wine was excellent.

Day Two (wineries and local restaurants):
A pleasantly cool and rainy day greeted us on our drive into the Willamette Valley.  Our first winery was Grochau Cellars in Amity.  A small operation with a staff of two, owner John Grochau provided us with a great tour of their facilities and graciously let us taste their upcoming wines still in barrels.  Their 2015 Commuter Cuvée is a staff and customer favorite at Bistro Menil.  With a great balance of fruit and acidity and a delicious minerality, it is everything that Pinot Noir should be.  We watched as his staff collected apples off their trees and began prepping to make some cider as a side project.  

I tasted their 2016 Pinot Noir, five weeks in the barrel, along with a bit of Chardonnay, Mourvèdre, Pinot Gris and Sangiovese.  I was quite taken with a sparkling rosé that may make its way into the Bistro Menil featured wine lists in the very near future.  I was so impressed with John’s knowledge, authenticity and passion for his product. To think that a small operation like his can produce such high quality wines at an affordable price is incredible.

Next stop was Brooks Winery known for excellent whites, especially their Rieslings including their 2015 Boi Joli and Sweet P which were indeed very good.  I particularly enjoyed sampling their Pinot Blanc and Terue Mascat.  Although our visit was limited to their somewhat commercial tasting room, their representative was very knowledgeable and friendly.

After a bit of a drive back up the valley near Yamhill, we visited Trisaetum WineryKnown for excellent Riesling and Chardonnay, their Ribbon Ridge and Dundee Estate Rieslings were very good as was their 2013 Ribbon Ridge Estate Pinot Noir.  Their tasting room includes an art gallery and certainly gives the facility an upscale feel.

With a good deal of Oregon wine tasting accomplished, we headed back to Portland to work on the food section of our trip including a couple of local recommendations.  So after a quick rest at the hotel, we headed to a restaurant devoted to artisanal cheeses served sushi-style named Chizu.  We ordered a cheese plate with a variety of soft and hard cheeses along with a bit of salami.  The cheeses were great, but what caught my attention was the local meadowfoam honey that accompanied our cheeses.  Intensely sweet with a distinctive warm, almost slightly burnt sugar note, it reminded me of cotton candy with a hint of vanilla.  I quickly bought a small sample to bring home.

Next was our proper dinner at Little Bird.  Shabby chic as only a Portland or Austin bistro can pull off, Little Bird delivered great food and service.  Starting off with a bit of Champagne and oysters we then ordered hanger steak with pommes frites and the steak tartare and rye appetizer.  The meal was very good and the price was more than reasonable, remember no sales taxes in Oregon!

Chef Greg Martin's visit to Portland Oregon restaurants

Day three (enjoying nature)
With a bit of an early wake up, we headed towards the Saturday (weekend) arts and crafts market near the riverfront and stopped off at Lechon, a South American restaurant serving breakfast.  A couple of breakfast chorizo tacos and a bowl of yucca chips covered in cheese and brisket, topped off with a fried egg pretty much set us for the rest of the day.

A quick stroll to the market with a slew of local crafts including cutting boards, jewelry, clothes and the like, pretty much things I didn’t need, so we decided to head out to take a look at nearby attractions.

A quick drive east on highway 84 then an exit onto Historic Columbia River Highway brought us to Vista House overlooking the Columbia River, then Latourell Falls, Bridal Veil Falls State Park, Wahkeena Falls and finally, via a short hike due to backed up traffick, Multnomah Falls.  The views were spectacular as were the sheer grandeur of the falls.  With the sun peaking out from the clouds, it was a bit crowded, but well worth the effort to find.

After an active morning and early afternoon it was back to the hotel for a break then drinks and dinner on our last night.

The current “it” place to get a drink in Portland is Pépé le Moko.  Essentially a former storage space for the ACE hotel, this bar is dark and a bit thread-bare; however, the drinks and service are excellent. We enjoyed a couple of classic daiquiris and manhattans before heading to dinner at The Thai Peacock restaurant just a few yards away.  Ordering some curry and pad thai, dinner hit our spicy spot.  The restaurant was very casual and was perfect for the quick and tasty dinner we were craving.

Nature surrounding Portland Oregon

Day Four (return home and final thoughts)
Portland is a great city, very casual and the locals could not be friendlier.  Great wines and food abound and although I never had a Portlandia moment, you can certainly see the quirkiness factor around, which is great.  I certainly look forward to my next visit to see more wineries and a visit to the coast is definitely on my list.

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