I try not to get too gloaty about the national acclaim Portland’s culinary scene has garnered as of late. I recall Seattle and ‘grunge’, and keep in mind that regional fame of any kind is brief and fleeting. Still, it’s no secret that Portland is home to a higher than average number of establishments that push the culinary envelope, and have a notable influence on dining that goes well beyond our city. I could be snarky and quote the New York Times Food Writer who declared that Portland is enjoying “a golden era of dining”, but really, that would be overkill.
One of my favorite happy hour spots in Portland is somewhat of an anomaly because it is in a hotel, and a chain hotel, at that. Prevailing logic dictates that a chain establishment can’t be any good, let alone unique. To the contrary, happy hour at the Heathman is excellent, and also uniquely Portland. One of the few remaining bastions of old Portland charm, the stately Heathman boasts a James Beard Award-winning Culinary Director, and houses a fantastic collection of modern art, including an impressive group of Warhol prints.The Tea Court, well-appointed in lovely wood with its marble fireplace, and grand oil paintings attracts the boardroom crowd, as well as Portland’s well-heeled silver set during happy hour. The elegant room buzzes in soft hushed tones, glowing low lights and the clinking of fine china and silver against crisp table linens. Its ambiance is matched only by the L’ Heure de Plaisir, an exquisite menu of small plates offered daily from 2pm to close.
A newly expanded menu features interesting dishes like Korean short ribs and oysters rockefeller, along with old favorites, like the juicy bistro burger. There is an artisinal cheese board that changes daily, and features three of the chef’s personal favorites. On a recent visit, it included a tomme de chevre, a buttery cantal, and a creamy stilton served with a tart, house made quince paste. And for those of us who like their cheese in the form of ‘hot and melty’, the decadent macaroni and cheese is luscious and creamy, full of rich, nutty comte, grana and fontina, and finished with a fine, crispy crumb. This dish serves as the perfect contrast to chilled deviled eggs, heaped generously with sweet, fresh, dungeness crab.
Lovely nibbles aside, Happy Hour wouldn’t be very happy without cocktails, and the cocktail menu at the Heathman is fresh and inventive, featuring a respectable roster of local spirits, including New Deal Vodka and Hot Monkey Pepper-Flavored Vodka. Drinks are well-executed by mixologists that are skilled, yet refreshingly unpretentious. Their enthusiasm is contagious, and their repertoire constantly evolving. It is not uncommon to find them working on an aromatic tincture or house bitter, or perfecting a seasonal cocktail. One recent such offering, to be featured at their Easter Brunch, is the Mr.Pig Shot – New Deal Vodka, smoked tomato juice, thyme essence, Pasilla de Oaxaca gastrique, celery curls and bacon salt. (Bacon salt…the thought of it brings tears to my eyes.)
In short, go there.
1001 SW Broadway St, Portland 97205
Happy Hour (L’ Heure de Plaisir): Daily, 2pm to Close