Dining Out: Pok Pok Noi (Portland, OR)

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I love filling my head with information about food writing, the business of blogging, and the intricacies of e-publishing as much as the next blogger…

…but being confined in a stuffy conference room for two days straight is making me downright batty.

A small pack of us happily broke away at lunchtime to chow at Pok Pok Noi (the smaller, abridged version of the original Pok Pok), located in a tree-lined nabe in Northeast Portland. Okay, who am I kidding? Every neighborhood here resembles a forest.

But when the five of us arrived at the restaurant, it turned out that only three of us were itching to eat at Pok Pok Noi; the other two wanted to dine at Grain & Gristle next door instead. Since food trumps friendship, we opted to split up and regroup post-meal. (Kidding — but not about spitting up to hit two different restaurants.)

Pok Pok Noi serves a dozen or so of the greatest hits from the regular Pok Pok menu, which was just fine by us. (As much as we love to eat, we weren’t likely to order more than 12 dishes.) By the way, Pok Pok is not Paleo AT ALL — the menu clearly states, “we use peanuts, shrimp, meat, eggs, sugar, salt, wheat & dairy products in our preparations” and makes clear that no substitutions are allowed. But this was one of those rare meals where I figured the indulgence would be worth any gastrointestinal consequences.

The three of us unanimously agreed that we wouldn’t be satisfied unless we ordered half the menu. While I sipped on a can of coconut water, the dishes came out in quick succession.

We shared Papaya Pok Pok — spicy green papaya salad with tomatoes, long beans, Thai chili, tamarind, fish sauce, and peanuts (and yes, Paleo Police, I left the peanuts on the plate)…

…Muu Paa Kham Waan (grilled boar collar with a spicy chili lime garlic sauce), Neua Naam Tok (spicy flank steak “salad”)…

…and a platter of Ike’s Vietnamese Spicy Fish Sauce Wings.

These wings are legendary — and with good reason: crunchy, juicy, sweet, savory, and tangy. Again, not Paleo whatsoever, but sooooo worth it.

I had a terrific time sharing plates with my lunch companions, Lia (of Nourish Network fame) and Kat (author of the terrific and essential The Kitchen Counter Cooking School). When not immersed in conversation, we fed ourselves with our hands, murmuring about the amazing food. As Lia dumped her cleaned bones on the platter, she declared that the food at Pok Pok must be Paleo because we were all grunting like cavemen.

We were so caught up in licking our fingers and picking every last morsel of the platters that Kat was almost late for the writing workshop she was leading at IFBC.

The rest of my day was spent cooped up indoors as I absorbed as much as possible about improving the quality of my writing. My mission is to maximize the pithiness of my blog ramblings, yo. By the way, for a shining example of kickass food writing, check out my pal Cheryl’s prose on her award-winning blog. She’s my hero.

Me write pretty someday…hopefully!

Portland Eats: Stumptown, Cultured Caveman, Crave Bake Shop (8/24/12)

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With limited time in Portland, I knew I had to start working my way through my gastronomic to-do list before the International Food Bloggers Conference began in earnest. 

First thing in the morning, Cheryl and I made a pilgrimage to Stumptown Coffee Roasters, the coffee mecca of the Pacific Northwest. Sadly, my inability to read a map properly made our path to java nirvana more circuitous than anticipated. “SE” and “SW”? Greek to me. Maps confuse me with all their wiggly lines. I’d never flinch at eating scorpions or beef testicles, but I’m the kind of gal who’d finish last in The Amazing Race ’cause I can’t navigate worth a damn.

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Lynne was already waiting for us when we arrived. The smell of coffee at Stumptown was intoxicating — I perked up even before I spied the impressive array of coffee drinks and magazines available to all the hipster caffeine junkies who wander in.

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I ordered an espresso con panna, not realizing that the “panna” — cream — came in the form of canned whipped cream rather than as a splash of heavy cream. My bad. But it was still a fantastic cup of coffee.

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After properly caffeinating ourselves, we strolled around the neighborhood and quickly spotted a long line of people jonesin’ for fried sugary gluten at Voodoo Doughnut.

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I swear: if I’d been here just a couple of years ago, I would’ve totally camped out in line for a chance to munch on a few (dozen) doughnuts. Now? Not so much.

Lynne and Cheryl had to return to the hotel for their book signings, so I picked up my new friend Shaun to accompany me to the Cultured Caveman food cart. This was to be Shaun’s first foray into Paleo eating, and I had a feeling I’d picked the perfect spot.

In fact, I’d been eager to visit Joe and Heather, the owners of Cultured Caveman, for months — ever since I got wind of their Kickstarter campaign to fund the launch of their business. Their video was charming and funny, and I was thrilled to participate in their fundraising efforts and spread the word about Portland’s very first Paleo food cart. I couldn’t wait to come to Portland so I could drop by for a meal. 

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Joe and Heather didn’t disappoint. The dynamic duo behind Cultured Caveman are exactly who I’d imagined them to be: warm, genuine, charismatic, smart, intrepid entrepreneurs. (Besides, they mentioned that a few of their menu items are actually based on my recipes, so how could I not love them? With me, flattery’ll get you everywhere!)

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Waiting at the food cart to join us for lunch was Kyra Bussanich, the beautiful and talented Paleo-eating, CrossFitting, gluten-free baker from Crave Bake Shop — and winner of the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars! How awesome was it that she hand-delivered a box of award-winning gluten-free treats for me to take home? (Honestly, I hope I can resist the urge to eat all the goodies before I return to the Bay Area.)

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And, of course, when my good buddy Diane Sanfilippo showed up, it was a super-Paleo party in Portland! (I think Oregon marks the fourth or fifth state in which I’ve hung out with Diane. Only forty-five left to go!)

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I was delighted to meet a number Joe’s and Heather’s fans, too. Clearly, the Cultured Caveman food cart is THE place to be if you’re a Paleo eater.

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And with good reason. The eats are superb.

I sampled as much food as I could cram into my mouth. I started with the crisp, flavorful coconut flour crusted chicken tenders fried in tallow…

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…the hearty bone broth…

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…the sweet and savory bacon wrapped dates and almonds…

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…(which, by the way, make perfect Paleo “croutons” for the colorful kale salad)…

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…and a side of rainbow fries served with homemade ketchup.

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For dessert, I inhaled a hot chocolate cupcake from Kyra. When I bit into this beauty, I’m pretty sure my eyes rolled into the back of my head.

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Even after two solid hours of food, laughter, and conversation, I didn’t want to leave. 

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But alas, it was time for me to head back to the conference, so we said our reluctant goodbyes.

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I really ought to have taken more photos of the remainder of my day. I should’ve taken snapshots at the presentations I attended, or at dinner with my new IFBC buddies. But I was tired, the lighting was dim, and our dinner was at Ned Ludd, where I’d just eaten and snapped a whole bunch of images the night before. So I decided to put the camera away for once, and just soaked it all in.

I did manage to take one more photo, though. To cap off a day of super Paleo power, here’s a shot of me and Chef Gregory Goudret at the Taste of Oregon and Gourmet Fair at IFBC: 

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He’s not just an award-winning chef. Chef Gourdet also happens to be a Paleo-eating, ultra-marathoning CrossFitter.

AND he’s been named Portland’s Hottest Chef of 2012.

Whoa.

Portlandia & Dinner at Ned Ludd (8/23/12)

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I should be elated to jet off to a food mecca like Portland, but the guilt is gnawing at me. The night before my solo trip, my normally stoic little boys went to bed with big tears rolling down their cheeks. Between choked sobs, they turned their puppy-dog eyes to me and demanded that I stay home. Ai-ya.

"Weird. They don’t seem to mind when I leave on business trips," my husband noted.

Heh-heh.

In the morning, I packed Big-O’s lunch for the last time this week and walked him to school. When the bell rang, I gave him a fierce mama bear hug and glumly trudged back home.

To make myself feel better, I reheated leftover pressure cooker kale and topped it with two fried eggs. Runny yolks and melt-in-your-mouth kale make the world a better place.

After Henry left for work, I tossed some clean laundry into a bag and caught a ride to the airport with my pops.

It’s been a while since I traveled all by my lonesome, and I have to say that getting through TSA lines and onto an airplane is sooooo much easier sans kids. Once I settled into my seat, I napped and ate a sampler pack of TX Bar Organics' new jerky. (Not at the same time, obviously.) I give it a big thumbs-up — it's savory, slightly-fruity, and sliced super-thin. Before I knew it, the plane had touched down.

Portland is just how I pictured it: a funkier, more hipster version of Seattle. As soon as I arrived at the hotel, I met up with Cheryl, my pal and author of one of my favorite cookbooks. We strolled around our hotel and came across…nothing. Sadly, our hotel appears to be located in a culture-free zone; there’s no local flavor or interesting spots to hit — unless you’re a big fan of Quizno’s or Sears. No matter — Cheryl and I had a fine time chitchatting and catching up.

At dinnertime, we ventured to Ned Ludd, an “American Craft Kitchen” owned by the super-smiley, heavily-tatted Jason French. (Seriously: I love that his arms are covered with food-related ink, including an artichoke and a meat grinder.) What’s amazing about Ned Ludd is that Jason turns out remarkable meals equipped with just a two-burner hot plate, a steam table, a small alto-shaam, and a wood-fired oven. That takes some mad skills.

The dinner was hosted by Cheryl and Lynne Curry (author of Pure Beef), and we were joined by a group of gals well-versed in the Portland food scene: Ivy ManningMartha Holmberg, Lisa Hill, and Brittany Wilmes.

Chef Jason sent out a complimentary starter of carpaccio in Lynne’s honor. Her cookbook is a fantastic resource on how to tackle EVERY cut of grass fed beef.

Then, we each picked a dish from the Bits menu that we shared family-style. My two favorites included the spicy charred brassicas with chili conserve and boquerones…

…and the pork “noodles” with bacon, chanterelles, tomatoes, and parmesan. Yes folks, these were silky and soft “noodles” made from pork skin. Amazingly tender and unctuous.

For my main dish, I ordered the whole roasted trout with Walla Walla onions, cucumbers, and salad greens.

Throughout the dinner, Chef Jason came out to chat and even brought over a tin of locally-sourced Jacobsen Salt when one of the ladies requested salt.

Lots of lively conversation and advice. I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunity to get to know these ladies, and to learn from their experiences as food writers and professionals.

Can’t wait for the rest of the weekend!