If you think fine dining means a stuffy restaurant with equally stuffy wait staff, think again. Oregon, in particular the Portland area, makes dining fun, interactive and creative. You may find that fine restaurant cuisine at a local cart pod, at an Internet-announced meal where tickets are snapped up in minutes, or in the middle of a farmer's field. If you want to relax and have a great time, consider some of these fun dining options:
Pop-up restaurants, long popular in Britain and Australia, are a more recent phenomenon in the United States. Chefs, many of them young fast-starters, borrow a restaurant, announce a dinner and sell a limited number of tickets for the event.
One very successful pop-up business was started by Jake Martin, the executive chef of Genoa. Chef Martin is known for his innovative cuisine. According to Portland Monthly Mag, Chef Martin had been "dreaming up a way to marry the experience of fine dining with the chilled-out vibe that defines much of the city's food scene. Martin’s dream will come to fruition with the launch of Daphne, an 11-course pop-up dinner series that he’s co-created with Levant sommelier."
Food writer, Wendy Bumgardner attended the inaugural Daphne Pop-Up Dinner, and was one of the 24 foodies who scored reservations. She reported, "The menu was laid out on the chalkboard, the minimal description not doing justice to the details of each dish. The chefs were precise with the artistic arrangement of each plate. Service was excellent, with new wine glasses for each of the 10 wines and fresh silverware for each course."
She was able to sit at the exhibition kitchen counter and watch the action and talk to the chefs as the courses were prepared.
If you don't use the Internet you won't be able to follow the pop-up scene and get in on the action. These tickets are announced via twitter, Facebook and chef's e-mail lists.
Field & Vine dinners, the brain-child of Chef Pascal Chureau, is part of his vision of linking farmer and restaurant to bring special dining experiences to the local diners, or, to take the diners out to the farm and vineyard.
Chef Chureau does this through his work at Allium, a neighborhood restaurant in West Linn. One Sunday each month, Allium offers Neighborhood Dinners, family-style dinners that explore cuisines from villages in France and Italy, and American cuisines from Oregon, Washington, and California.
And then, several times each season, The Farm Comes to Allium, and they invite a local farm and its farmers to share their offerings and talk with all of diners about what they grow and do in the community.
Most recently I experienced "The Diners go to the Farm," with a Field & Vine event headed up by Chef Chureau and Chef Paul Klitise, chef and owner of Willem's on Main in Vancouver, Washington. The two chefs created a relaxed family-style experience in a tent erected in the beautiful display garden at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm in rural Woodburn, about an hour south of Portland.
The multi-course dinner, mostly sourced locally, was accompanied by local wines. The courses were served family style as diners sat at long tables and interacted with the Iverson family who own Wooden Shoe Bulb Farm.
Diners could wander over to the chefs' tent and watch Chef Klitise finish his spätzle in a huge cast iron skillet over an open flame. It was a great way to see the courses being plated and ask the chefs questions. Several times throughout the dinner, the chefs came over to the diners to explain what was going on and what they were going to experience. Winemakers talked briefly and, of course, the host farmers added to the experience.
Throughout the meal, the two chefs worked, joked and genuinely enjoyed what they were doing. And this convivial atmosphere extended to the diners who savored each course, enjoyed the flowing wine and got to know each other, the chefs and the farmers.
It is this interaction, over a plate of fine food, that you can't get in a traditional restaurant. You can't experience a drive through the countryside, past farms and farm houses and then duck rain drops as you enter a beautifully decorated tent for your dinner in the field. All Field & Vine dinners are different. At Wooden Shoe, we experienced flowers, some decorated with twinkle lights, and the rolling fields of the farm. Fresh cut tulips graced the tables.
Upcoming Field & Vine events for June will take place at wineries. You can make a reservation online.
Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a complimentary meal for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.