Monday, July 29, 2013

Dishcrawl - Portland's 5th Event, "Dish-Covering the North West"

The concept of a dishcrawl is not new to me. The fact that someone has made a business offering them IS. After years of reviewing Happy Hours, I've grown pretty accustomed to researching new places to try that are all relatively close to one another. It makes it a lot easier to hit up more than one new spot when they are within walking distance. It's also a great opportunity to really see what Portland's neighborhoods have to offer.

Dishcrawl does the same thing, but in a well organized fashion. And they offer these four-stop trips in cities across the United States. My husband and I had the chance to enjoy Portland Dishcrawl's 5th event, Dish-Covering the North West. We started at Nell's Cafe and continued our walk through the Alphabet District with our Ambassador, Irene, and a party of about thirty guests.

Each Dishcrawl is a bit of a surprise. The theme (or neighborhood) might be obvious from the event's title, but the exact restaurants aren't revealed until the event itself. Even the starting point isn't shared with the guests until just two days prior. And the rest of the stops aren't really clear until you make your way there. By the time we had finished our meal, we had been to Cafe Nell, the Bent Brick, Quimby's at 19th, and Besaw's.

Our first stop was probably my favorite and one that I will most definitely return to for an official happy hour review before the summer ends. As the starting point, Cafe Nell had just enough space in their main seating area to fit all of us as we got organized for the night. They had prepared a plate with four tastes from the menu, but started by serving a small ramekin of chilled beet soup.

As a vegetarian--and labeled with a green Dishcrawl name tag (color-coding at its best)--the plate of four tastes delivered to my seat were not the same as those mentioned by the owner of Cafe Nell. Thankfully, my husband has come to accept my obsession with food blogging and waited patiently as I took picture after picture of his plate.

While the event ticket does not include beverages, I did start my evening with a fresh strawberry margarita. It was huge--much more than I was expecting--but I was able to finish it before moving onto the next restaurant. Next time, I will stick to wine in order to avoid adding any extra work for the bartenders and the servers as a party of thirty-plus can be a bit much.

Our second stop was the Bent Brick. I had been here once before (on the day they officially opened to the public) and my co-bloggers will be there for an Urbanspoon event tomorrow. For the Dishcrawl event, they offered mussels, some of their house-made sausages, and fat potato wedges (that had apparently been cooked in duck fat). I was less than thrilled that we weren't made aware of the duck fat until after they had been served, but didn't put up as much of a stink as some of the other vegetarians in the room.

Rather than being seated like at the first stop, we were escorted upstairs through an area often used for food preparation into a space that would be perfect for a dinner party or small get-together. The owner made a special appearance to describe the food we were being served and to tell us more about the Bent Brick as he had intended it.

After allowing some time to mingle with the other Dishcrawlers and to speak to the owner himself, we were led to the third stop of the night. By now the sun was setting and the walk (although only a few blocks) allowed for more conversation. We learned that a number of people at the event tonight were there as a part of an official Meetup (with - a concept that is new to me but obviously very established as there are hundreds of different official Meetup groups in the Portland area). It was a great opportunity to meet new people and would be the perfect place to start for someone new to the area.

Quimby's at 19th was the most filling of all our stops and a place that would be perfect for a late-night outing. It is most definitely a bar, though, and not a family-friendly restaurant. Now that they are becoming more well-known for their food offerings, perhaps they will change to allow minors in up until a certain time of day.

The food options were quite fitting for the atmosphere but were made with a little more effort than you'd probably expect at any other bar. The macaroni and cheese, for example, was made with SIX cheeses, including blue cheese (which gave it a smokey flavor according to so many there that night). They also offered us pulled pork nachos (and some without for the veggies) plus fish tacos (again with a fish-free variety for me and the other green-labeled party goers).

Our last stop of the night was at Portland's oldest restaurant (and the first to have a liquor license), Besaw's. I have heard so many good things about this place and now know that it is somewhere I need to return (despite the wait that might accompany the visit).

Like at Cafe Nell, the plates arrived with multiple small tastes of what the menu offers. This time, however, every bite was dessert. And every bite was like heaven. I tend to work my way around the plate (or from dish to dish) when faced with multiple desserts in order to find my favorite and the one I will end the night with. This time, I couldn't. Instead, I just kept going from one to the other to the next and back again until they were all gone. It was a perfect way to end the evening.

The Dishcrawl event is one that I will do again. Someday soon, I hope. I am also intrigued by the Neighborfood, an event that is described on their website but has not been--as far an I can tell--introduced to Portland just yet. I will make some suggestions for those who would like to join in on the fun in the future. First, be prepared to walk. They suggest comfortable walking shoes in the initial emails and they mean it. Second, be ready to eat A LOT. And third, know that your night is going to be a late one. This is something that only worked for me on a weeknight because I'm in the middle of summer break. Had it been a school night, I would have had a much harder time facing middle schoolers after being out past my bedtime.

The next Dishcrawl event is scheduled for September. The number of tickets is limited, so be sure to request yours right away.

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