Jim and I just had another amazing meal at a restaurant here in Portland.
Seriously, if it weren't for the fact that it's a full day's travel to visit either set of our parents (either via car or via plane, depending on which parents you're talking about), there would be very little reason for us to leave this city.
OK, granted, the weather is, more than occasionally, vile. And I clearly function better in good, warm, sunny weather than in massive drifts of snow and endless gray skies. However, Portland does an almost outrageously inappropriate job of supporting fantastic, well-priced restaurants.
I think a good part of it is that it's entirely possible to sustain a 40-50 top (maximum) restaurant here. You can't do that in a major market; it's just too few tables, even with great turnover. But here, you have a public that truly enjoys imaginative food, that is willing to eat out, and that looks forward to trying new and different places opened by the local innovative chefs, even if there are only 22 seats in the whole place, and they have to wait five weeks for a reservation.
Jim and I have enjoyed utterly underpriced delicious wines, amazing ingredients, and phenomenal preparation and presentation at almost innumerable restaurants up here. And goodness knows I enjoy a good restaurant meal.
Tonight we went to Caiola's, the newish place opened by a former cook at another great restaurant in town. Caiola's is tiny, and we sat in the "back room," which is a sometimes-private, sometimes-overflow room that you access by walking through the kitchen.
We shared our appetizers, an arugula and citrus salad with several rounds of an excellant piquant cheese, and a possibly-worth-dying-for black bean cake with avocado and harissa. For an entree, Jim had a special of a calamari rippini, a calamari body stuffed with shrimp and spinach and grilled, served with more shrimp and braised greens. I had halibut cheeks (yes, cheeks) with haricots verts, tapenade, and a purple-potato-cabbage salad that was worth getting a container full of, if they sold it at the grocery store instead of the insipid things that pass for "potato salad" and "slaw" in the deli.
Oh, and for dessert -- an insanely rich vanilla panna cotta with fresh blueberry sauce, and a singe caramelized walnut biscotto that Jim joked looked like Zwieback, a resemblance put entirely to rest after one taste. That ain't no teething cracker.
We also enjoyed a really lovely bottle of wine. And did I mention the place is in walking distance?
It's sort of unfair how many similarly wonderful places there are in this town. I hate the fact that I can't see my mother more than a few times a year, but with food this good, if I stay here, well, maybe she'll come visit me.