I first stopped into H5O Bistro not long after it opened a few years ago. The razor clam dish I ordered still lingers in my mind, but the dish that made the most lasting impression was the churros, elongated ridges of sweet delight that were to be dipped through warm marshmallow into a cup of warm dark chocolate. I mean, really. I thought, as good as Toro Bravo’s churros were, Nick and his pastry chef had outdone anyone in town. (Although like any artist, that dessert has evolved to a different and still delicious form–changed today.) I brought some friends and my kids back, and every time I left H5O I was amazed that it wasn’t on the foodie radar as much as some other places on the other side of the Willamette.
On one visit, though, there was a minor service problem, so I took some time to write Nick, because I thought he should know (my assumption is –which I’ve learned is not always the case–that every chef/GM would want to know what’s going on in the front of the house). He wrote me back immediately, acknowledging that he was aware of that problem and had already tackled it, but was glad I brought it to his attention. He invited me to come back as his guest to eat at H5O again. I’ve since been back a number of times, and am always amazed at the precision and elegance with which his dishes are prepared. It’s quite different than any other place in Portland. Presentation is very important to Nick, but that doesn’t mean flavors take a back seat. He’s got it all going on, and so when it came time to start putting my Portland Food Adventures together, Nick was in the group along with Chris Israel, Cathy Whims, John Gorham and Jason French, to whom I first went and presented my idea to see what they thought.
Nick runs the show at H5O, and he’s so dedicated and passionate he doesn’t spend as much time enjoying the Portland Food scene outside of the walls of the Hotel Fifty as I think he should. Nonetheless, his list of favorite places centered mostly around The Pearl, and so I was more than pleased to add to our roster of great places, Metrovino, Kenny and Zuke’s, and Barista, where Nick turned me on to their incredible vacuum pots.
We rescheduled our event at H5O from May, when we were too close to the holiday weekend. I was pleased that the change would give an opportunity for those who attended our magical evening at Genoa and Accanto to have the opportunity to join us at H5O. We had some new faces at Genoa, and I loved their energy. In addition to the menu that I knew Nick was going to blow out of the park, I was looking forward to getting to know Long and Dana better at this dinner, and made sure to place their place cards near mine. Also, Erin DeJesus from Eater was to join us as well. She had never been to H5O, and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of turning Erin, who writes such fun articles about the Portland food scene, on to some places she had never been. A few weeks ago she and Dina Avila, whom I am so pleased is contributing to Portland Food Adventures by photographing and blogging about our events on her leeksoup blog, joined me for a Lardo and Eurotrashfest. We had a great time. (Note: Dina wasn’t able to make it to this dinner, hence the reason you’re not viewing anything near the amazing shots she takes, below. But she assures me she’ll be with us at Wafu and St. Jack, or next events. Very pleased about that!)
When Nick told me he wanted to add sake pairings to our dinner, I thought that was a great idea. I was looking forward to opening my palate and mind up to new sakes–it’s never been a favorite. I’ve always been more of a food guy than a drink guy, but that’s been changing a bit lately. I’ve been foraying into cocktails like the Iron Horse at Aviary and the BMOC at Clyde Common, just to name a few.
I absolutely loved the sake pairings. They went much faster than I had thought! While Dana wasn’t finding the same newfound affection for sake, I heard many positive comments flowing from the other side of the table, and to my left. I was pleased to hear people were enjoying that as much as the food. I especially enjoyed the rabbit, and the presentation of the pea soup with crab and the swipe of roasted poquillo pepper was as artistic a dish as I’ve ever had in Portland. With eight courses from a menu designed especially for us, ranging from Salmon tartare to Duck to Heirloom tomatoes (LOVE THEM) to the perfectly prepared almond pastry with strawberries, accompanied by a frothy cocktail (I hope Nick sees this and comments as to exactly what that was–I don’t remember and didn’t write it down), the evening was everything I have always envisioned for a Portland Food Adventure–a new experience that can’t be had anywhere. And one thing I’ve learned is that the new friends to be made at our events are really what make the events special. Here we are less than a year from when I first had this idea, and we’ve had over 100 different people come to our events … it’s so gratifying that people love exploring this city’s incredible food culture the same way I do–which is why I wanted this to happen. I envisioned all these great chefs, the city, the cool places, but what I had failed to realize is that it’s the people and the company who make the experiences really special. Without them, it’s just delicious food. It’s the sharing that counts.
The day before our dinner at H5O, I had an idea–to see if everyone wanted to share some of our favorite off the beaten path experiences. I talked a bit about my recent visit to Otto and Anita’s in Multnomah Village, and Local Ocean Seafoods in Newport, which is the best seafood experience in Oregon, from my experience. Cindy offered up Limo Peruvian as one of her favorite spots, and Laura turned us on to Uptown Billiards, and Lucas Lodge in Agness, OR. Some other names places were Blackfish Cafe in Lincoln City, which I have passed but will now have to try, and Lorenzo on Mississippi.
So to top this all off, our guests get to go to Metrovino, Kenny and Zuke’s, Barista, and Lardo as part of the adventure. And of course, everyone got a copy of The Happy Hour Guidebook and the Wine Country Guidebook to further enhance their adventures in Portland–Cindy Anderson’s wonderful books that are an absolute must for everyone — you get the cost of the book back in spades with the coupons, and Cindy’s recommendations are fantastic. I keep a copy on my desk and in my car.
Thanks to Nick for sharing his passion and vision with us. True art you can eat.