(Valentines has changed considerably since this review was written, much of the information is no longer relevant)
One of the most adorable qualities of Portland folk is their allegiance to local products and businesses. We liberal corporation haters love to buy local fashions, drink locally distilled vodkas (New Deal, anyone?), and eat at tiny local restaurants. For most Portlanders, it is a mortal sin to dine at Applebee's or the Macaroni Grill (God, I despise you Macaroni Grill!), and why would you want to when there's a hometown restaurant within walking distance serving food that's 10 times as good? (No, really, why are you waiting an hour and a half at the Macaroni Grill when the Mama Mia Trattoria is a block away? Really, I'm asking!)
Valentine's is a new little Portland cafe that fits the city's sensibilities perfectly. It's a small, spare, airy storefront right near the bustling Berbati's Pan/Shanghai Tunnel/XV triangle, and it serves simple food made delicious. Following the trend of Portland heavyweight restaurants like Ripe, Navarre, and The Farm, the restaurant uses as many local and organic ingredients as possible and pairs them sparingly with each other, highlighting the natural flavors. For example, instead of making a cheese sandwich with Swiss, cheddar, and Monterey Jack on onion bread, like something you might find at the despicable restaurant Red Robin, they make a simple and spectacular melted brie and greens sandwich on Grand Central's como bread, served with a peppery balsamic-dressed mixed greens salad ($7).
Not to say that Valentine's doesn't dabble in decadence. Their egg salad is deliciously rich, made with crumbled blue cheese and bits of bacon. They also serve a side of warm prosciutto and fontina ($2), wrapped together, which is creamy, and pungent. One of their true gems, and probably their signature item, is the salami and cheese sandwich, made with gourmet, cured meat from Salumi Artisan Cured Meats in Seattle. Obviously, Valentine's isn't satisfied with making the average salami sandwich.
The restaurant makes a homemade soup daily, like a recent garlicky gazpacho, made unique and refreshing with chunky puréed tomatoes. Likewise, their beet salad is screamingly fresh, tangy, tender, and topped with a sprinkle of goat cheese.
So far, though, my favorite item on Valentine's seasonally changing menu is the roasted pork sandwich, made with perfectly dry, thin sliced pork (like the opposite of Subway meat), paired with sautéed spinach and piquant caramelized onions on crispy bread. It's the perfect incarnation of the sandwich, and enjoyed with a glass of house red or cold white wine, it's an ideal summer meal. And because Valentine's is open until 3 am Wednesday through Saturday you can even have said beautiful meal after a long night of drinking at Berbati's.
While the decidedly minimalist Valentine's may not be the place where you decide to propose marriage or go when your parents are buying, it's entirely fitting for a long weekend lunch, or an inexpensive dinner before a $9 movie. Much like their brethren, the downtown cafe Half & Half, Valentine's has evolved the sandwich shop into something more profound. By catering to their inherent Portland sensibilities, Valentine's youthful local owners will undoubtedly seduce Portlanders, and have already managed to bring a significant addition to this, our fair city.