Romantic Date

Ah, the Romantic Date of Lore. Flickery candlelight, dramatic hand gestures, nervous hair twisting, hearts-a-thumping, second bottles of wine, sweaty hand-holding, flirty games of footsie, meaningless banter, meaningful eye contact, nods towards the door. Can I order a side of third base and the check, please? Setting the mood? The swoon factor is set to high at these lovey-dovey establishments.

Angel Face

angelfacecollageA sultry French mistress for neighboring Navarre restaurant, this beautiful little bar is a sexy spot for late night lingering when making the 28th Avenue Restaurant Row rounds. At first glance you’ll want to compliment the proprietor’s taste in upscale wallpaper, but look closer–all those flowers were laboriously hand-painted right onto the peachy pink walls. The wine list is short and sweet, the spirits list long and serious, and don’t bother asking for a cocktail menu, in the interest of maintaining Portland quirk credentials, there isn’t one, you just tell ace bartenders Kelley Swenson or Tim Davey your drinking whim and they’ll concoct something on the spot. Bites are simple and elegant–start with raw oysters, nibble a flawless salad Niçoise, and most definitely explore the egg meurette, a poached egg swimming in the richest of red wine sauces.

Ava Gene’s

avagenesextsquareGaze into the mirrors suspended over this Division Street stunner’s open kitchen and see your future…meal, that is (along with a LOT of lightbulbs). The latest project from Stumptown sage Duane Sorenson, this upscale hotspot is dazzling discerning diners with chef Joshua McFadden’s sophisticated take on rustic New York-style Italian, like warm chicken livers with raisins and marsala, Delicata squash fritto, housemade ravioli, and pork osso bucco. Finish with a vanilla bean panna cotta in pine cone syrup, then sip one of the bar’s exquisite grappas as you plot your next visit. Prix fixe seekers–opt for the five-course chef’s tasting menu.

Bar Avignon

Screen Shot 2013-08-02 at 3.35.57 PMThis classy little Southeast wine bar is equally charming in the warmest of times and the coldest of times–and considering that we have far more of the latter than the former here, one of my favorite fall, winter and spring pastimes is to curl up in a cozy booth with someone special, wistfully sipping rosé and watching the rain pelt the front windows. The bar shakes and stirs consistently excellent cocktails, the wine list is beautifully curated, and the menu moves seamlessly from nibbles like oysters on the half shell and mix-and-match artisan cheese and charcuterie boards to heartier fare like stuffed sardines and roast chicken with basil pistou. Beware the bewitching happy hour—it’s disconcertingly easy to arrive at 5pm for the $7 Washington mussels in tarragon cream sauce and $5 Aviation gimlets and end up lingering until last call, because once you’re under Bar Avignon’s spell, it’s rather painful to return to the real world.

Bar Mingo

barmingoextStrolling NW 21st Avenue on a warm summer evening, it’s easy to spot Bar Mingo. Bright orange chairs surround the sidewalk tables, and every single one of them is full of people chatting, toasting, gossiping, playing footsie, lamenting their mother’s nosiness (that would be me), and of course, sipping wine and eating cheese, among other things. Bar Mingo has an excellent wine list, tasty antipasti like lamb meatballs and oysters on the half shell, a half dozen or so housemade pastas, and hearty mains that include grilled flat iron steak and cioppino. From 4-6pm daily, there are $6 bellini, martini and wine specials, which will fill you so full of happy hour spirit, you’ll soon be calling your Mom right from the restaurant to tell her how much you love her, nosiness and all.

Cheese Bar

cheesebarThe wedge and wheel crowd flock up into the sleepy Mt. Tabor neighborhood, to the corner of SE Belmont and 61st Avenue, seeking out legendary cheesemonger Steve Jones’ straightforwardly-dubbed Cheese Bar. They come in search of the most exceptionally creamy Bries, boldest blues, and odoriferous Langres, as well as Steve’s full selection of expertly-curated charcuterie, specialty groceries and chocolate, and perhaps, while they’re here, a fortifying snack from the seasonally-influenced menu of beer and wine-friendly sandwiches, salads, soups, and small plates. Six rotating taps and a superb selection of wine ensures there’s always a stout for that cheddar and a rosé for the Mahón.

Clarklewis

clarklewisThe droves of tea lights flickering within this foxy former warehouse turned enchanted glass-walled inner Southeast industrial district dining room serve to adequately illuminate the way to your gin martinis, Viridian farm nasturtium-dotted burrata salads, grilled Cattail Creek lamb leg with watercress and morels, and salted caramel and chocolate profiteroles, while casting only the most flattering of glows on your primped and polished countenances, rendering it an excellent choice for date night–be it your first date, or 2000th.

Coquine

coquinealbacoreWell past the bustle of Belmont’s commercial core, where the popular Southeast thoroughfare meets 69th street, sits pretty Coquine, joint venture of husband-wife, chef-manager team Katy Millard and Ksandek Podbielski. The surrounding Mt. Tabor residents seem pleased as punch by their new neighborhood joint, and rightfully so, considering that the kitchen opens at 8am every morning with bowls of chanterelle and Shishito pepper hash and hazelnut cocoa nib granola, then come evening, turns out refined dishes like oil cured Oregon albacore with new potatoes and sorrel-scallion vinaigrette, black pepper molasses glossed short ribs, and carrot cake with rosemary crème anglaise and smoked almond brittle. Pre or post-meal walk around Mt. Tabor: optional, but recommended.

Cyril’s

cyrilscheeseboardAh the Portland winter—frosty harbringer of cold sores, elbow eczema, and legs so white they glow in the dark…through your flannel long johns. Bring your sexy back at this glammy inner SE wine and cheese bar, where Clay Pigeon Winery winemaker Michael Claypool and author/former affineur Sasha Davies preside deliciously over their respective passions, uniting them on a well-rounded menu that includes simple, comforting foods like blue cheese gougeres and the Monger’s mac ‘n cheese, outstanding seasonal salads like butternut farro and cabbage kumquat in apple lime vinaigrette, and rich desserts like apricot almond tarts and a deep, dark, mascarpone-iced chocolate cake that doesn’t care a whit if you haven’t shaved your legs since October.

Davenport

davenportscallopsChef Kevin Gibson’s new East Burnside restaurant, formerly home to June, allows him a far roomier setting in which to craft his simple, impeccable supper fare. Evoe devotees will miss the intimacy of sitting 12 inches from Gibson’s knife skills, but the tradeoff is that in lieu of Evoe’s 7pm closing time, you can eat his grilled beef heart with black olive salsa, seafood chowder, and perfectly seared scallops and duck breast all the way up until bedtime. A full dessert menu remains elusive, but fortunately, Pix Patisserie is right next door, so sweet teeth should plan on a progressive dinner.

DOC

docsquareDOC is such a lovely space, I often forget to pay attention to my date because I’m so smitten with the alluring little dining room. Once you’re able to focus on dinner, test your future/current mate’s culinary savvy by making him/her interpret the cryptically written dish descriptions. If he/she in turn tries to test your wine mettle by making you choose the bottle, just smile smugly and pick the first thing you see, because this beautifully constructed Italian-only wine list is pretty foolproof. Hold hands over digestifs and feed each other bites of cherry almond crostata, just don’t make out in the bathroom, because the door is right smack in the center of the dining room and if you’ve had too many Negronis and forgot to lock it behind you, nobody will find it very romantic when you and your lipstick-smeared date and your Spanx are revealed in all their glory.

Driftwood Room

driftwoodroomsquareSomeone once told me if he ever had an affair, he’d take his secret lover to the Driftwood Lounge. So I camp out there every night with a beebee gun and a jumbo canister of Mace, because I couldn’t tell if my boyfriend was joking or not. Just kidding. Let me start over. The positively bewitching Driftwood Lounge oozes old Hollywood glamour and romance, has lighting so pleasingly dim that everyone looks like an extra in the Pet Shop Boys’ “We Were Never Being Boring” video, makes an art form out of the champagne cocktail, and ever so conveniently happens to be located in one of downtown Portland’s loveliest boutique hotels. Coincidence? I think not.

Fireside

firesiderillettesAnd the prize for most dramatic NW 23rd Avenue transformation goes to The Fireside, which replaced lauded labyrinth o’ tunes Music Millenium with a light-filled modern neighborhood spot sporting plenty of leather stool-lined bar space. Thoughtfully-positioned mirrors so you can check for brisket in your teeth, and two fireplaces round out the decor. Since where there’s fire, there must be smoked trout, eat from a menu of “outdoor-inspired” cuisine like picnic boards, elk chili, and the signature S’mores. While you’re at it sip refined cocktails like the mezcal and rhubarb amaro-accented Backyard Grillin’ and A Foragers ‘tail, made with Isle of Skye scotch and mushroom tincture.

Hazel Room

hazelroombrunchsquareCozy can take you far in rain-besieged Portland, and this Sunnyside tea lounge has cozy to spare. Sharing a vintage bungalow on SE Hawthorne with eclectic boutique Mag-Big, The Hazel Room serves up more than 30 Townshend’s teas (straight or booze-infused) by the fireplace, as well as locally-sourced coffee, wine, beer, cordials and absinthe, along with an array of elegant salads, soups and sandwiches like the four-mustard egg salad, tamarind pork, and citrus-spiced cucumber with herbed cream cheese. And even if you and your sweet tooth are currently quarreling, don’t pass on the homemade rainbow, Linzer, or sea salted chocolate chip cookies for dessert. Seriously. On weekends, completely bypass the brunch lines clogging the Southeast and step right up to an open table, an ice-cold Bloody Gina, a piece of spiced coffeecake, and a hot skillet of baked eggs with fennel, bacon and a flaky little buttermilk scone. And homemade cookies for dessert, don’t forget those.

Irving Street Kitchen

irvingstreetfloatsquareThe sort of place you can take almost anyone—dates, colleagues, family, friends, tipsy girls’ night out expeditions—and have an excellent time, this Pearl District restaurant’s creative Southern-influenced New American cuisine feels both sophisticated and hearty, with dishes like creamed white corn soup with chanterelles, maple-smoked brook trout and arugula salad, grilled duck sausage over gingersnap basmati rice, and divine desserts like the pecan skillet pie, strawberry soda floats, and legendary butterscotch pudding. Service is friendly and accommodating, and little curtained booths offer you sanctuary from the merry melee–if you’re a recluse, want to get romantic or just need a nap after downing the blackberry crème fraiche-smothered cornmeal waffle during brunch, you can close the curtains and hide/smooch/nap, whilst plotting how to nick the milk-bottle chandeliers. Read full write-up>>

Kachka

kachkaherringunderafurcoatUnless you just got back from Saint Petersburg, and maybe even if you did, it’s probably been a while since you had a proper Ruskie Zakuski Experience accompanied by nine shots of vodka, Siberian pelmeni in fancy broth, short rib borscht, and Russian ice cream sandwiches dipped in black currant tea milk caramel. So thank goodness for this utterly charming Russian gem in the ever-evolving inner SE, where chef/FOH team Bonnie and Israel Morales dish up buterbrod, blini and beef tongue stroganoff with a side of infallibly gracious service. And vodka, obviously—nearly 70 local, international, and house-infused varities are served.

Khun Pic’s Bahn Thai

khunpicssquareI happen to think Khun Pic’s is a pretty romantic little place, what with the gilded decor, hot steamy tom ka for two, and leisurely meal pace, with plenty of time for footsie and making eyes. Just make sure you go with a date that you really like, because Chef Mary isn’t in a rush to make her delicious dishes, so you’ll want to have plenty to talk about while you wait. Order a bottle of wine and pace yourself–it’ll be awhile before you get your spicy chicken salad and green curry with Thai eggplant. Depending on how romantic you’re feeling after sharing a bowl of creamy coconut ice cream, the wait for your leftovers to be boxed might leave you no choice but to throw all your cash on the table, dash out, and fornicate in the garden brambles like two naughty garlic chili sauce-addled field mice. Just kidding, but bring small bills just in case.

Le Happy

lehappyextEvery time I see Le Happy, I feel a surge of love for its battered little sunburst yellow facade, and that warm fuzzy feeling only grows when I step into its cozy crepey chambers. Crepes, wine, cocktails, candles, board games, odd kitsch (excellent conversation propellants)–this NW Portland haven is the perfect place to spend a rainy evening with le amour.

Little Bird Bistro

littlebirddiningroomLate hours, a central location, and trés delicious dishes make this younger sibling of renowned Le Pigeon an inviting downtown destination regardless of the hour (they’re open until midnight) or your craving—stop in for a glass of wine and a charcuterie board or reserve a dark red leather banquette for a leisurely supper. The kitchen is helmed by longtime Le Pigeon sous chef Erik Van Kley, who orchestrates a simple French menu that zeroes in on beloved, expertly-executed bistro classics like steak frites, coq au vin, and marrow bones (and the iconic Le Pigeon burger), while pastry chef Lauren Fortgang spins sweet fantasies like strawberry elderflower floats, apricot givré with a corn financier, and her housemade chocolate plate. Depending on your mood, sit at the gleaming copper bar, see and be seen in the main dining room, or, provided you don’t suffer from acrophobia, opt for my favorite perch—the tiny upstairs table hugging the balcony corner.

Maurice

mauricecollagePosh restaurant pastry chef turned pastry luncheonette proprietress, Kristen Murray, has stepped in to save us all from a existence bereft of mango tarte tatin and cocoa puff palmiers by opening this sweet spot tucked down a pleasantly mellow tree-lined street in downtown’s happening West End neighborhood. Armed with a pastry background and aesthetic so impressive that entire shelves of sugar bags bow and curtsy in unison as she glides down the grocery store dry goods aisle, Kristen conjures up stunning sweet somethings like duck egg flan with chocolate consommé, geranium-scented pain perdu, and black pepper cheesecake with rhubarb-apple confiture and celery leaf gelée, served alongside craft cocktails and fine wines, on the heels of Maurice’s daytime “luncheonette” menu.

Nonna

nonnamenuJust when you thought the intersection of NE Killingsworth & 30th couldn’t get any tastier, enter restaurateur Dayna McErlean’s lovely new Nonna, neighboring DOC’s casual counterpart, a chic but homey trattoria focusing on Italian-inspired small plates and good wine. Even if you swear you don’t like them, try the excellent Brussels sprouts with chile flake and lemon cream, then continue feasting on chef Jobie Bailey’s mussels, manicotti, and good old spaghetti with meatballs, then get a second bottle of Barbera d’Alba with your brown butter hazelnut cake, just like your Nonna would.

Olympic Provisions NW

opmeatboardPortland is full of interesting secrets—secret catacombs, secret kebabs, secret gardens, secret creperie-speakeasies, and Secret Society, to name a few. Then there’s Olympic Provisions Northwest, which isn’t technically a secret, but unless you’re a particularly thorough wanderer, prone to getting lost, or have business in the industrial wilds of Northwest Portland, you’d be hard-pressed to stumble upon it. Walking through the deli’s front doors, you’re immediately confronted by one of the finest meat counters around—brimming with fresh sausages, frankfurters, patés, rillettes, Sweetheart hams, bacon, and a full range of Olympic Provisions’ acclaimed salami–all housemade on site. Orbiting the deli case is an intimate kitchen-facing marble bar, a few tables for two, and two boisterous communal tables—so you’re covered, whether you’re having salami sandwiches and cold microbrews for lunch with friends, or sharing one of the peerless rotisserie chickens with Schmaltz potatoes and a bottle of rosé with a hot date. Read full write-up>>

Olympic Provisions SE

olympicprovisionscocktailWith its intriguing Mediterranean-influenced small plates, superlative wines and house cocktails, and sleek, sexy, romantically-lit digs tucked away in a renovated cereal mill in Portland’s unpolished Southeast industrial district, Olympic Provisions is a natural choice for Date Night, or an exploratory outing with someone you’d like to establish a regular Date Night with, or just someone you want to show your meat to. I mean your kielbasa, dirty bird–it’s even served with Sweetheart ham potato salad. Share a few small plates, finish with chocolate salami, and unless there are any other suggestive dishes you’d like to try before you leave, carry on with your evening–with all that meat in the air, it’s bound to end well.

Pix Patisserie

pixsparklecakeIf you can’t fall in love at Pix, you must be the most awfullest of curmudgeons. After all, they’ve already done most of the work–setting the mood with their sexy little bustling faux-French bistro, supplying plenty of sugar and alcohol (everyone seems more lovable when you’re under the influence of passionfruit macarons and Framboise)…why, the Pix pastry wizards have even created a Tart Ménage á Trois (almond cream, chocolate ganache, and orange vanilla bean crème brulée in a buttery tart shell) for the less conventional love affair. Now all you have to do is be perfectly charming and maybe show a little skin. Trés facil!

Radar

radarinteriorsquareThose of us, er, you, who think nothing of stealing restaurant menus for their grubby little harissa and olive oil-spattered scrapbooks best bring your big handbag to this stylish Mississippi Avenue bar and dinner den, where  the placemat-sized cuisine crier offers up three large-font columns of signature cocktails, beers, “non beers”, and creatively seasonal small plates like roasted radishes with brown butter and beef cheeks with Orca beans. After dinner, hone in on the housemade frozen dessert delicacies—it’s hard to pass on the salted licorice ice cream or grapefruit tarragon sorbet. Fútbol fans–there’s always a match playing on the telly above the bar.

Ristorante Roma

ristoranteromasquareArguably, there is no place more romantic than Italy. And the unassuming and authentic Ristorante Roma in downtown Portland reminds me of so much of the little trattorias I ate at in Italy–simple, immaculate, family-run holes in the wall with gracious service, fresh salads, hearty plates of uncomplicated pasta, and plenty of Sangiovese to sip with your sweetie. If I avoid looking out the window at the Portlandness outside, I am completely transported to Italy. This makes Ristorante Roma a very romantic sort of place to dine and wine that special someone, and it’s a lot cheaper than airfare for two to Rome.

Sapphire Hotel

sapphirehotelsquareMaybe it’s the restaurant’s slogan: Eat, Drink, Kiss, maybe it’s the strong pours.  The crimson-lit, swagged out interior is quite a turn-on and the drinks are pretty sexy too–sip an Apricot Blonde (spicy lemondrop made with pepper vodka and apricot puree), a Trophy Wife (pear ginger martini with pineapple infused vodka and fresh lemon), or a Belly Dancer (jasmine-infused gin with saffron honey and kiwi puree), then feed each other bacon-wrapped dates or honey mix (almonds roasted with apricots, figs & pancetta) until last call. In the interest of setting the mood, you may want to avoid the 15-Bean Flautas. Just a suggestion.

Southeast Wine Collective

sewinecollectiveThe only thing better than a one-winery tasting room is a four-winery tasting room—or so thought local labels Vincent Wine Company, Bow & Arrow Wines, Helioterra Wines and Division Winemaking Company, who combined their fermented forces to open the Southeast Wine Collective on increasingly gastronomically gifted SE Division Street. Sip their wines, sip their friends’ wines and brews (the menu features diverse guest pours), and nibble cheese and charcuterie while reminiscing about the old days when four-winery urban tasting rooms were just fodder for the city girl/boy’s “in your wildest dreams” file.

St. Jack

stjackfishermansstewIf two heads are better than one, then two restaurants must be better than one, and if the two restaurants are attached and one of them is actually a bakery, that must be better than a private Living Room Theater showing of Amélie, a bottle of Cristal Rosé, and a bucket of bacon fat croutons. Enter St. Jack, Portland’s very own bistro-bakery dream team, part darling Clinton Street corner bistro, part patisserie, the latter which opens daily at 8am to supply the neighborhood with pastry chef Alissa Rozos’ divine housemade éclairs, flaky croissants, and feather-light mini-madeleines. The bistro menu reflects chef Aaron Barnett’s affection for rustic French cuisine (think tureens of puff pastry-capped escargot, oyster and scallop-studded fisherman’s stew, and whole roasted trout over creamy French lentils), while Rozos’ dessert menu reflects…well, my dreams, actually (think chocolate crème brûlée with beignets and strawberries and créme chiboust with pistachio financier). If you find it hard to choose, just remember—two dinner entrees are always better than one, and two desserts are better than the aforementioned Amelie and bacon fat croutons screening.

Suzette

suzettebrunchsquareThey don’t come any more oh-lá-lá than this Belmont creperie, which produces some of the most thoughtfully-constructed savory and dessert crepes in town—I lust after the lemon butter-drenched, cider poached apples-topped Normandie. The prix-fixe weekend brunch menu (for those opposed to prix fixe confines, the full menu is served as well) is three courses—if you count a mimosa as a course, and I certainly do. As you watch your drink’s construction (perfectly proportioned at 7/8 champagne, 1/8 juice), you’re served a sweet, nutty housemade French almond teacake, followed by your choice of crepes–the prosciutto, Gruyére and caramelized onion, or roasted mushrooms, chevre, caramelized onion and mushroom cream sauce—both topped with a still-quivering fried egg and crème fraîche squiggle. Le sigh.

Taylor Railworks

taylorrailworksmarrowbahnmiSet in the inner Southeast’s historic Plow Works Building, so close to the tracks that your Kentucky Cardinal cocktail trembles when the trains go by, this low-ceilinged space beguiles with its wide wood beams, stunning open kitchen, sexy swanky bar, and chef/owner Erik Van Kley’s expertly prepared “Borderless American Cuisine.” Even the most sophisticated dish has a hint of both the homey and exotic, like the hearty grilled marrow bone topped with bánh mì fixings and served with warm housemade dinner rolls. Staunch pescatarians will be thrilled, the menu leans towards the sea, with  starters like two sweet scallops on a bed of cucumber and spicy mayo, mains like Oregon albacore topped with nectarine salsa, and desserts that…well, they’re just normal desserts, no fish there. Actually, I take that back, the desserts aren’t normal, they’re fantastic, especially the signature waffle with bruleed banana, smoke-laced crème fraiche, and melt-in-your-mouth pecan praline.

The Farm Café

thefarmextThis popular little cafe is easy to overlook as you’re hurtling up lower East Burnside in a panic because you’re late for your third (oh boy!) date with that really hot winemaker you met at Taste of the Nation. But once you’ve stepped into the swoony little converted Victorian and have greeted your hot winemaker date with a demure peck that disguises your true carnamorous intentions, and settled into a lovely window or patio seat with a glass of pinot noir and a bowl of rosemary-roasted Oregon hazelnuts, that lovin’ feeling is coming on. By the time you’ve moved on to the braised greens and toasted pecan-stuffed ravioli, you’re completely smitten, and as you finish up your sunken chocolate souffle cake, you’re in full blown love–whether it’s with your winemaker date or The Farm, it’s hard to say.

Xico

xicointeriorGet your capsaicin fix at this airy, elegant, fresh flower-filled Division Street cantina, where chiles reign supreme and the mezcal mingles freely amongst the merry crowds that populate the sleek marble bar and hidden back patio. Chef Kelly Myers incorporates seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients as she puts her own unique stamp on Mexican classics (definitely try the trout pozole), and specializes in eye-openingly (and sometimes eye-wateringly) inventive salsas. A small but mighty lunch menu is served most days via the kitchen window, and the smoky molé-drenched rotisserie chicken dinner can be ordered daily by noon for evening takeout. And as far as dessert is concerned, missing out on the Woodblock chocolate cake with passion fruit chile ganache is no bueno.