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Old Reliables, Fast Favorites {Nel Centro and Deschutes Brewery Portland Public House}

May 17, 2011

This is the time of year when you take a little bit of chance leaving Seattle. The weather could go either way. We’re still happy and super grateful for temperatures mid-50s or above, but we’re getting rare mid-60s, sunny days. B and I took off for Portland mid-day on Friday and I just knew we’d miss a great Seattle Saturday. We left the city admist absolutely beautiful weather. It sounds like we missed a gorgeous Saturday, but the evening brought record setting rain. After a slightly traffic-ky, but otherwise uneventful drive down to Portland, we arrived just before 4:00 on Friday, just in time to enjoy the 70+ temperature and happy hour on the patio at Nel Centro.

This was our second trip to Portland together and my second trip ever. Last November we made our first trip to see the Kentucky/Portland men’s basketball game. We had an amazing time despite the fact that their weather really wasn’t any better than ours. Though it was cold and rainy at times, we took advantage of the awesome fire pits on the Nel Centro patio. Friday afternoon, it was definitely too warm for fire pits, but we were happy to find seats near where the fires would blaze later in the evening.

I had big plans before we arrived for us to have dinner Friday night at Le Pigeon. I had a feeling reservations would be hard to come by especially given that their chef, Gabriel Rucker, just won a James Beard award for Rising Star Chef of the Year. I was really disappointed that they didn’t even bother to return either of my reservation request phone calls (made in advance of the day), though. It would have been nice just to have them call and say they couldn’t accomodate us. We were left without any plans for the evening.

Instead of heading straight out to walk through the city, we decided to sit for awhile on the Nel Centro patio and have some frites and a drink. This was definitely the right decision. When you live in a city that’s now exceeded 190 days straight without a temperature above 70 degrees, 72 feels downright hot. It was fantastic! Those frites weren’t so bad either.

Pommes Frites with Harissa Ketchup

Actually, they were quite a lot better than not so bad. They were really, really good. One of these days we’ll take a trip to Portland and eat a full dinner at Nel Centro. Their menu looks quite good. Here’s the thing, though. Nel Centro is attached to the hotel we’ve stayed in both times and it just feels a little like cop out to eat at the hotel. I’m sure it wouldn’t be, though.

Speaking of the hotel, on both trips, we’ve stayed at Hotel Modera. We love, love it. It’s a super adorable boutique hotel. It’s not heavy on the ammenties (no spa or gym, though they give you free passes to 24 Hour Fitness) and the rooms are small, but they’re really nice and comfortable, I’ve already told you about the restaurant, it’s decorated beautifully and filled with art, and not of least importance, they’re really reasonably priced. Next time I think we’ll try to stay somewhere else just for neighborhood variety, but I wouldn’t be one bit disappointed if we ended up back at Hotel Modera.

After happy hour, we wandered off in no particular direction. Well, maybe that’s not entirely true. We wanted to see the Waterfront park and we did. Then we wandered off in no particular direction. B will disagree with that statement. He’ll say he knew exactly where we were going. Anyway, after a long walk through downtown, we were ready for dinner. We headed for another place we visited on our first trip, Deschutes Brewery Portland Public House. We weren’t big on new experiences this trip. Old reliables, though I’m not sure one previous visit constitues “old,” were more the theme. I’m pretty sure Deschutes is always busy. They’ve been crazy busy both times we’ve eaten there and every time we’ve walked by, regardless of weather or time of day, they’re packed. We only had to wait for a table for about fifteen minutes, though, so they’re also efficient.

I started out on the gluten-free path (they have the best gluten-free menu). So many options, I didn’t have any trouble choosing. Of course, I blew all my good behavior out the window with dessert, but it was a better effort than usual. B doesn’t really eat clams, but I had the Northwest Steamer Clams in a Gluten-Free Beer broth with Zenner’s Andouille sausage, roasted fennel and saffron served with gluten-free breadsticks as a starter. I wanted oysters, but they were out. The clams were very, very good, though and the portion was more than generous. Fantastic broth and sausage as well. As for those gluten-free breadsticks? They were outstanding.

Northwest Steamer Clams

For dinner, I had the gluten-free Elk Burger (Oregon-Raised Rosse Posse Ranch Natural Elk patty with roasted shallot and thyme aïoli, Gruyère cheese and sweet Field Greens). B had the Oregon Blue Bacon Burger topped with Carlton Farms Applewood-Smoked bacon and Rogue Creamery Oregon blue cheese.

Elk Burger

Oregon Blue Bacon Burger wtih Sweet Potato soup

I don’t remember if I’ve ever had elk before, but this was a really great burger. I’ve tried their gluten-free bun before and it was great the last time, but it was even better this visit. Aside from the fact that it’s square, I really couldn’t tell that it was gluten-free bread. Not that square buns have anything to do with gluten-free. Our server was right about the elk, though. It just tasted like lean beef. B loved his burger, but that was a given since it had so many of his favorite ingredients. There was also, of course, dessert. We had a peanut butter cake that doesn’t appear on their online menu. It was good, but honestly, not worth the gluten diversion.

We sat for awhile enjoying our beer (afterall, it was a brew pub) before calling it an early night and heading back to Nel Centro for a night cap and some time by the fire pit. If you don’t go to Nel Centro for anything else, go there for the fire pits. They’re worth the trip all on their own, even if they do make me wish I had a real patio.

Nel Centro (Hotel Modera) on Urbanspoon

Deschutes Brewery & Public House on Urbanspoon

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