This past Saturday, my fiancée and I attended the 13th Annual Portland Seafood & Wine Festival taking place at the Oregon Convention Center. I do not often drink (and she drinks even less than I do) but we wanted to go for the food, if for nothing else. Although I don’t drink much, I do enjoy going to brew festivals from time to time; I just have to be in the mood to drink. And despite living in Portland for more than seven years, this was my first time attending this particular festival. While I thoroughly enjoyed myself, there were both good and bad about this event (more on that later).
Before I go much further, I feel I should inform you that, because I am not a big drinker (especially wine), I will not go into much detail about the many different wines I sampled. I just don’t know how to talk about wine (the complexities and subtleties of the flavors, etc.), and therefore will leave that to the professionals. If I tried to describe wines to you, your knowledge of wine would likely regress rather than improve. At least I’m honest, right? So, if you were hoping for some informative reviews on the wine, I offer my apologies to you. Maybe in time, I will become more knowledgeable.
Our first order of business, upon arriving, was to get some food in our stomachs. Before the event, neither of us had eaten much. I had a bowl of cereal that morning, and she had two slices of buttered toast. We were excited to try some of the restaurants being showcased, so we made sure to arrive with plenty of room in our belly’s. As we surveyed our options, the cheesy crab melt and cheesy shrimp melt from Mo’s Chowder caught our eyes first. Apparently, Mo’s caught the eyes of just about everyone else, too, it seemed. The line for their booth was consistently one of the longest throughout the day, and into the night. The hardest part was finding precisely where the line started and ended. The lines for most of these places had virtually no organization, and they ran parallel to the restaurant booths, rather than outward from them; however, it would have been nearly impossible for them to run outward anyway. This created chaos because there were lines (for different booths) running next to each other, and in some cases, merging with one another. You could barely determine which line was for what. Even those already waiting in line were not entirely sure if they were in the correct line. It was a big headache – to put it nicely.
When we did finally figure out which line was for Mo’s Chowder, and where the end of the line began, there was about a fifteen-minute wait to get to the front. Unfortunately, as we approached the front of the line, we noticed the small Cash Only sign just behind the person who was taking the orders and collecting payment. Now, I will gladly take some blame for not having cash on me before arriving. In hindsight, I should have thought about that. However, if the vendor (or event organizer) had come up with a better way to have lines form, it would have been much easier to see the Cash Only sign before spending nearly fifteen minutes in line. Granted, I am only 5’-8” so I may have seen the sign if I was slightly taller, but still. Also, this is 2018 – isn’t cash almost extinct? You would think that just about everyone, especially businesses, would have a credit/debit card reader at their disposal.
So, we had to backtrack a little. Just outside the doors to the festival, there was an ATM. We were not the only ones who did not bring cash, though, and it took about fifteen minutes to make it through this line. Now armed with cash, we headed back to the event. Once again, we had to locate the end of the correct line (and spend yet another fifteen-minutes waiting) so that we could finally get those crab and shrimp melts that were tempting us (my stomach is aching from hunger at this point).
Thankfully, not all of the food vendors were as busy as the others. While I held our spot in the line for Mo’s Chowder, my fiancée was able to grab a sample of clam chowder from Line & Lure Kitchen Seafood and Tap. She raved about the taste and even returned for a bigger portion during our next long wait. The chowder was all for her. As adventurous as I am about most food, clams are not for me. Both the taste and the smell of clams make my stomach uneasy. She also snagged a seafood roll for us to try (from Line & Lure as well). Their seafood roll is made with Oregon Bay shrimp and Dungeness crab, topped with marjoram and chives, and served on a butter-toasted split top roll, and, ultimately, was the best food we ate during the festival. We should have gone back for seconds, but never did. Something tells me that we will take a trip to Ridgefield, WA to visit the restaurant at some point. Plus, it’s located inside the new Ilani Casino Resort so we could make a night of it!
Finally, we made it to the front of the line (for Mo’s) after all of the confusion and backtracking. Despite the size and cost of each ($8 for the crab melt and $6 for the shrimp melt), they looked great, and I was eager to take my first bites. To my surprise (based on how long the line was), I was quite underwhelmed by both. Don’t get me wrong – they tasted good, just not great. Both have cheddar cheese melted over them and are served on toasted garlic cheese bread. Sounds great, but for whatever reason, they were kind of bland and seemed to lack any seasonings. If I had to choose which one I thought was best, I would have to go with the shrimp melt (surprising because I love crab melts), though if I were to ever dine at Mo’s Chowder, I would not order either of them.
Next up, more food. Why not? Canby Asparagus Farm (or Casa de Tamales) had an impressive looking menu that included appetizers such as bacon-wrapped asparagus and deep-fried asparagus. Entrees included your typical Mexican cuisine: tamales (also asparagus tamales), chile relleno, and tacos (the halibut tacos looked amazing), among other items. Ultimately, I had my eyes set on the deep-fried asparagus. There was only one problem. You guessed it – another long line to wait through before you could order. From the time we got in line to the moment we received our order, approximately 35 minutes had passed. The problem with this line was that it was difficult to tell which of the lines you were in. There was a line to order your food, and then a shorter line where you waited to get your food. But, the way their booth was set up, it looked like two different vendors. Because of that, multiple people got into that shorter line but didn’t realize they were in the wrong line until they made it all the way to the front. The man running the booth would walk over and take their order anyway, basically allowing them to jump to the front of the line. I guess he felt bad for them, but it was unfair (not to mention frustrating) for those who were patiently waiting in the proper line; this occurred a half-dozen times, at least. I’m not sure who deserves the blame. The vendor? The event organizers? Or both?
Their menu on display showed a deep-fried combo as an option. They offered asparagus, zuchinni, or onion rings. I assumed that the combo meant that you could choose one of each, or something like that. I was planning to go with the asparagus and zuchinni. When it came time to order, I was told that there was no option for the combo. Ok, then why is it displayed? Anyway, no big deal. I ordered just the deep-fried asparagus. Additionally, our order was forgotten (or given to one of the people who got to jump in line) and it became necessary for us to remind them about it (we were not the only ones who had to remind them).
Once we got our order, I was excited to take my first bite. I love just about anything that is deep-fried, as unhealthy as it may be. Admittedly, I was somewhat skeptical at first, though. I have come to find that often, the bigger the stalks, the more stringy and less appetizing asparagus is. As you can see from the picture, this asparagus was pretty damn big (that is a regular sized paper plate). I was pleasantly surprised that the asparagus tender – and not at all stringy – until you got to the very bottom of the stalk. The batter was delicious as well. I’m guessing that they use a beer batter, but I can’t say for sure. The sauce that accompanied asparagus was also tasty, and a perfect match for them. It reminded me of a cross between a chipotle sauce and the spicy mayo that you find in many sushi joints. The bottom line – great asparagus, but the service left a lot to be desired.
Sadly, the asparagus would be the final food item that we tried. At this point, we had been at the event for more than two hours and had done nothing but stand in lines waiting for food, and had yet to sample any of the wines or visit any of the exhibits.
I had a blast sampling a bunch of different wines, as well as a few hard liquors. I even sampled saké for the first time and drank a cocktail in between. When all was said and done, I had probably tasted more than a dozen different wines (mostly Riesling), two or three hard liquors, and two samples of saké. Keep in mind, as I mentioned earlier, that I am not a big drinker. The fact that I was still standing and walking on my own by the end of the night was impressive, though I did have a hell of a headache for most of the next day. I would have liked to have sampled more styles of wine, but I have not yet acquired the taste for most wines. I seem to only like wines that are sweet, and not too dry. I did try a few wines that were not Riesling, but did not particularly care for them. My favorites of the night included a dessert Riesling (though I forgot the name) from J. Scott Cellars, a white Riesling from Nehalem Bay Winery, and a Riesling with Peach (Valley Peach), also from Nehalem Bay. I even decided to buy a bottle of the white Riesling to have on hand for a nice date night at home with my love. Nehalem Bay also had a Blackberry wine (Riesling, too, I think?) that was good.
I also tried a couple of distilleries, though Vinn Distillery is the only one I remember by name. Note that, by the time I started sampling hard liquor, I was already quite buzzed – which is probably why I decided to move on from wine and begin sampling liquor. Initially, I went to the Vinn Distillery booth just to get one of the cocktails they were selling but tasted two versions of their baijiu (pronounced “bye joe”) while there. I was not at all familiar with baijiu, but learned that it is considered the national drink of China. All of Vinn Distillery’s products are made with brown rice, which I found intriguing, and the distinctive taste of the brown rice was evident. While I was happy to try the baijiu, it is unlikely that I would ever buy it for myself; a bit too strong for my tastes. I may drink an occasional Mai Tai, or rum & coke, but that is about as far as I go with hard liquor these days.
As the night was winding down – and with my last $2 in hand (each alcohol sample was $1, by the way) – I planned to end the night buying two more samples of that dessert Riesling from J. Scott Cellars that I had liked so much. As I approached their booth, however, the SakéOne booth caught my eye for some reason. Having never tried saké before, I figured, what the hell? This, again, probably had more to do with the fact that I was far from sober at this point. I had no idea of what to expect, and therefore also didn’t hold high expectations of liking it. I tried two different sakés, and surprisingly, enjoyed them. My favorite was the Momokawa Pearl (pictured). The lady explained to me why it was white (as opposed to the typical ‘cloudy’ appearance), though I was too buzzed to remember the reason. It had hints of pineapple and banana, so it had a fairly smooth taste, but it still had a good potentcy. The second sample I tried was the g-joy, which had much more of a kick to it. Like the baijiu, it was a bit too strong for me, though. Despite that, I find myself much more interested in saké now, and look forward to visiting their tasting room one day.
We also enjoyed checking out some of the non-alcoholic exhibitors, bringing home a veggie dip mix from DJ’s Food and Gifts and a flight (multiple samples) of goat cheese from Skamokawa Farmstead Creamery. I am a sucker for goat cheese – if I see it, I will sample it, if not buy it. As of this writing, my favorite so far has been the pistachio-rosemary-lime goat cheese, but I really enjoyed the cranberry, as well. Additionally, I picked up a bottle of the best ketchup I have ever had, courtesy of Red Duck Foods. Ketchup is not something I would normally get excited about but…wow. I was excited to have hot dogs and french fries the next day just so that I could use the ketchup! I will probably do a product review of this ketchup soon.
What may have been the most interesting exhibit we encountered was a company called Imperfect Produce. What they do is source produce directly from farms, and deliver it to your doorstep for significantly less than what you would spend at a grocery store. The produce that they provide is what the farms are unable to sell to stores because of appearance – imperfect looking produce. Produce that is perfectly fine to eat – just not aesthetically pleasing to many stores. According to the representatives we spoke with (and their website) this service helps fight food waste and creates a more sustainable food system. They offer customizable plans (such as veggies only or veggie/fruit mix, as an example), weekly or bi-weekly. You can even stop your order at any time, so if you need to skip a delivery because you are out of town (or just don’t want it that week), there is no hassle. Additionally, you can cancel the subscription at any time – no questions asked. We decided to give it a try and signed up for a bi-weekly subscription to try out the service. Maybe I should do a review once we get a few deliveries under our belt? I think it’s a pretty cool concept!
My overall experience at the Portland Seafood & Wine Festival was a good one. I had a lot of fun but, significant improvements are needed. There has got to be a way to solve the issues with the lines for the food vendors. I do not have the solution, but I am confident that someone does. As this was my first time attending, I also don’t know if this has been an ongoing issue, or if it was specific to this year’s event. Additionally, I don’t know if there are larger Exhibit halls within the Oregon Convention Center, but if there are, maybe the organizers need to look into securing a larger one next time (I realize that budget constraints may not allow that). I just found it surprising that an event entering its thirteenth year would have these issues. And, the small Cash Only signs should be elevated to a point where they are visible prior to spending fifteen minutes, or more, in line. However, next time, I will just make sure that I bring cash with me, to begin with. I will give the event a second chance next year, but if I run into the same issues, it’s unlikely I would attend a third. There is a Seafood & Wine festival around the same time of year in Newport, OR that is just a couple of hours away, that I could try, instead.
Please feel free to share your experience(s) if you attended this year’s event, or if you have attended one in the past. I would be interested in knowing if my experience was an every year thing, or if this year was just a hiccup. And thanks for reading!