Portland, Ore., is one of the grooviest food cities in the U.S. It’s filled with the kind of restaurants and hotels that even the most off-beat travelers and food fans would get a kick out of.
Case in point: Hotel Monaco Portland. The Monaco offers guests all kinds of quirky perks. A chalkboard at the entrance welcomes furry friends to the property, goldfish are delivered to any guest who cares to have a fine finned friend, bicycles with locks and baskets are yours for the asking for free, and the complimentary evening wine hour offers wine and locally made microbrews on tap.
And unlike the old days when a hotel restaurant equaled a rotten restaurant, these days you can get a hotel restaurant meal that would rival anything else in the city.
The rock star at the Monaco is Red Star Tavern and Roast House. The ambiance is warm, casual, and inviting, from the bar to the dining. Chef Kyle Rourke’s offerings reflect the "eat local, eat responsibly" attitude that Portland, Ore., is famous for.
Some of my menu favorites include black cod with quinoa, coconut-olive oil emulsion, and cilantro shoots; buttermilk fried chicken with jalapeño country gravy; and Willamette valley lamb shoulder with celery root purée, oven-dried tomatoes, black olive glaze.
The cod is so fresh and light, and I love the texture pairing of the soft quinoa with the tender, flaky fish. The fried chicken brought back memories of the Southern home cooking I enjoyed when I lived in Virginia. The outside was so crisp and the inside was so tender and juicy. My sister enjoyed the cold leftovers the next day and said it was equally fantastic the morning after. On a much richer note, the lamb shoulder is fall on a plate, with classic flavors in perfect combination.
I had the chance to taste the lamb and the other specialties while taking a really cool classic cocktail class in Red Star’s speak easy-inspired space located just off the restaurant. The bookshelves move to admit those in the know! Groups can arrange similar classes through Red Star.
The ambience of Red Star is a big part of its charm. It feels upscale without being stuffy. The dining room is filled with tables large and small, and the tall tables by the bar are great for grabbing a drink or enjoying happy hour. Red Star offers an inclusive and inventive cocktail menu, with highlights like the Willamette Weak Sauce, a blend of gin, Dolin Blanc, lemon, orange blossom honey, and serrano syrup — my idea of heaven in a glass.
I’m a sucker for modern twists on classic tastes, for the right combination of cozy and chic, for tastes and sips and sights that are equal parts memory-inducing and memory-creating — and that’s precisely what Red Star is for me.