October 16, 2014

Portland Birthday Eats & Party Spots

I enjoyed such a fantastic birthday last Friday, thanks to my Portland family. They must know I like a good party (it's that obvious!?) and so they pulled out all the stops. Just for regular ole 32 too - not much of a milestone or anything. But hey, maybe that's what you need on a random early-30s birthday. 

Of course, much of my birthday centered around eating. To prepare for our weekend canoe trip, I had to get up early Friday and schlep across town to help load up our canoe. My boyfriend enticed me out of bed with the promise of buying me breakfast at Hot Suppa. They open at 7am, so we enjoyed a nice early breakfast there. 

As I was deliberating between their breakfast burrito and the green tomato eggs benedict, A. pointed out the specials. I immediately decided on the grits and black bean chili topped with 2 poached eggs, cheddar, and green onions, and served with crispy tortillas. It was yet another stellar dish that illustrated the appeal of Hot Suppa. While on the surface, something like a breakfast burrito or this dish might not sound very extraordinary, they are always executed perfectly. The grits were the perfect consistency and temperature, not too gummy or cold. The chili was savory and well-salted. The eggs were poached perfectly, with solid whites and runny centers. While I haven't had much I didn't really enjoy at Hot Suppa, I've never had anything at breakfast that missed the mark

A few hours later, after some Old Port shopping with Original Roomie A., we decided an Eventide Oyster Co. lunch was in order. We sat at the bar and ordered some bourbon cocktails to start - the Kentucky Cyclist, made with bourbon, Bonal, Chartreuse, and a twist. After we asked about it, our bartender explained that Bonal is a French aperitif, that used to be enjoyed by cyclists during the Tour de France. The herbal wine softened the boozy edges of the bourbon; the lemon and Chartreuse brightened it all a bit. 

We sipped on our drinks and settled on two old standbys: the fried oyster bun and the chickpea fries. The soft buns, topped with crunchy pickled onions and radishes, sliced jalapenos and tomatoes, are reminiscent of eating fast food, if fast food didn't fill you with shame and give you a stomachache. The chickpea fries are crunchy and salty, cut by the accompanying tangy-sweet raisin mostarda. If you frequent Eventide and have always passed over the chickpea fries, be sure to order them next time. 

Another safe bet is anything from the specials board. We ordered the red snapper, with radish and seaweed, over a shmear of miso paste. Such a great mix of umami flavors from the miso, with fresh, crunchy radishes and sesame seeds, earthy seaweed, and fresh fish. I could close my eyes and order a special at Eventide, and it would always be a winner. 

Later in the evening, my friends threw me a fantastic birthday party at Salvage BBQ, one of our go-to places for great food in a relaxed atmosphere. Our party took over a corner of the huge restaurant, hung banners, blew noise-makers, and covered tables with trays of spent barbecue detritus. Everyone was able to mingle; order drinks and food at their own pace; and pay separately. No "table for 20," separate checks (nightmare), waiting for overwhelmed servers to return with a tray of 10 drinks, or fear that we were the loudest group in the restaurant. I've hosted several after-parties, birthdays, and meet-up groups at Salvage BBQ, and I consistently find it one of the best places in town to accommodate a large, informal group. 

The best part, if I could possibly pick one, was my birthday cake. My friends have really stepped it up for me in the birthday cake department in recent years (remember the cake that had my face stenciled on it in cocoa powder?!?). My friend A. who owns East End Cupcakes, made me this incredible cake cat. And then, to boot, of my favorite flavor of hers: chocolate cake with salted caramel buttercream frosting. Hello. Or should I say, meow. 

If you find yourself in charge of throwing a party to celebrate a loved one, I can't recommend Salvage BBQ enough. The large, loud space with counter service lends itself well to hosting parties where guests come and go. Similarly, Bayside Bowl is another great place to host large parties. Obviously, there's the bowling, and lanes can be reserved for parties. But the bar area offers plenty of seating at large picnic tables and couches, and the staff is also very gracious and accommodating. 

As proper restaurant patron etiquette would dictate, my friends called ahead and arranged with the restaurants staff to have a party, as well as to bring in an outside cake, rather than order dessert from the restaurant. It's a testament to the hospitality of Portland's restaurant industry that they welcomed us, cat cake and all.