Portland, Oregon - The Foodie City
My number one choice for great food!
One of my favorite things about traveling is eating. And one of my favorite places to travel in the US is Portland, Oregon because it’s such a foodie city. So for this month’s Around the Block, I’ve decided to focus on one of my favorite places to eat in Rip City.
Brightly colored walls, rhythmic music, the air thick with the most marvelous smells, the room packed tightly with tables and every chair full. That was the scene at Pambiche in Portland, Oregon on the Saturday night my girlfriend and I wandered in for a taste of Cuba. We couldn’t have been anymore glad that we did.
The menu was almost too much to take. Every page was filled with temptation after temptation. We figured the only way to start was to just dive in. So we started our tasty adventure with La Primera Vuelta, literally, the first round.
It includes two each of your choice of empanadas, croqueta, and frituras, as well as a cabbage salad. We chose the Picadillo empanada, Cuban beef hash with Cacasde Natural beef, Hill bacon, olive oil and sherry sofrito, olives, capers, raisins, and fresh oregano. For the coroqueta, we went the Jamón route made with Smoked Hill ham in creole béchamel with bay leaf, lime, and peppercorn. And for the Fritura, we went the Maíz, their classic Cuban corn fritter.
Each piece was exactly as it should be, crisp on the outside, rich and flavorful on the inside. The empanada filling was juicy and rich and flavorful and warm. I had to stop myself from eating every last morsel on that starter plate, because I knew there was a great deal more to come.
The menu was vast, making it very hard to order. So I tried to head the advice of John Conell-Maribona, chef and owner of Pambiche. “One thing about Cuban food, the sides are just as important as the main dish, I recommend you let those persuade you as much as whatever meat you decide on!!! Rice, beans, ensaladas, viandas are all delish!”
When I bit into the Rabo Encendido or Oxtail on Fire, their insanely tender oxtail braised in a an impeccably spiced (but not spicy) creole wine sauce served with white rice and corn fritters, I was in love and couldn’t imagine anything more divine.
But then I tried the Vaca Frita or Fried Cow as well, their citrus marinated Cascade Natural beef, shredded and chargrilled with garlic and onions served with ripe plantains, red beans and white rice. It was a equally tasty and left me wishing I had the stomach of a competitive eater.
The bar menu at Pambiche is as impressive as the food menu. Conell-Maribona explains, “Our classic Cuban cocktails are made the way they are supposed to be made, we follow the line of tradition that has been set by Cuban barmen for decades. We are a Cuban rum bar, we don't have tequila, scotch, whiskey, vodka, gin or other spirits, we stick to the script, it is what we love!”
Some of the stand-outs include the Canchanchára (my hands-down favorite) with fresh limes crushed with Wessels Family raw honey then shaken with Aquardiente de Caña (sugarcane brandy) and served on the rocks with sugarcane; the Mary Pickford with Bacardi Superior rum and maraschino liqueur shaken with fresh pressed pineapple juice and fresh squeezed lime juice, served with freshly crushed pomegranate; and the Ron Collins with Carta Blanca rum, fresh squeezed lime juice, a hint of pure cane sugar, and a splash of club soda, served on the rocks with a pomegranate garnish.
Of course they have a celebrated Mojito with Carta Blanca rum, fresh lime, cane sugar, a sprig of mint, and a splash of club soda. Also not to be missed is a frozen concoction they call the National with Bacardi Añejo, Gran Torres Spanish Orange Liqueur, fresh squeezed lime juice, and chunks of juicy mango served frappe in an icy chilled glass. The perfect smoothie, all grown up.
There are no excuses at Pambiche for not having dessert. It’s one of the things for which they’re known. The offerings are many, but two of them are as pleasing to the eye as they are to the palette – the Cuban cigar, dense chocolate rum truffle cake rolled in the shape of a Cuban cigar and covered in dark chocolate and cocoa, served with strawberry daiquiri salsa and macaroon coconut and the Dominó, a white chocolate mocha cake, soaked with Kahlúa coffee liqueur and café cubano, filled with chocolate cinnamon mousse and glazed with Oaxacan chocolate ganache, finished with a while chocolate domino and served with crema Chantily. Both of them made my girlfriend and me downright giddy.
I also couldn’t bare to leave without ordering a few Cuban Lunch Cookies, inspired by Paulin’s Cuban Lunch bar, a defunct Canadian candy bar whose salty, caramelly, peanutty combo apparently cast a spell on Pambiche’s party chef and compelled her to create this cookie in its honor. Couble chocolate peanut butter nougat cookies filled with dulce de leche, peanut praline, and crushed potato chips. Amazing. Serious taste-texture heaven.
If you want the perfect after dinner drink to accompany your dessert, try the Mulata Acelera with Bicardi Reserve 8 year old rum with Pambiche’s hot chocolate, Cuban espresso, and fresh cream. The only problem is not having another and another and another and…
Portlanders know, if you want a real taste of Cuba, Pambiche is the place.
(And if you’re looking for a place to stay in Portland, check out RiverPlace if you want to stay on the waterfront; Hotel Monaco if you want to be in walking distance of one of the city’s hottest food cart pods, The Nines if you want to go super swank; and The Kennedy School if you want to check out funky NE Portland, including all the shops, food carts, and restaurants on Alberta Street.)