Every year, Feast Portland sweeps through the city like a whirling dervish of wine, smoked meats, cocktails, and small power-packed bites. Portland’s just coming off this year’s go-round of bacchanalia, so we’re taking a moment to digest, with bite-sized tips, tricks, and reviews designed to get us hungry for 2018.
This year marked the sixth for what is undoubtedly the most encompassing food festival on the West Coast, featuring 134 chefs, 31 wineries, 15 breweries, and nearly 18,000 attendees. Feast’s timing is very particular: In the peak of summer, it’s impossible to get partnerships with already tourist-packed venues and bugged-out chefs, and any later in the season risks serious weather complications.
Festival co-founder Mike Thelin said he felt that 2017 was the best year yet, with weather, chefs, planning, and all the elements coming together to create “event magic.” But in a post-Feast email chat, Thelin also said in our new, intense political climate, the festival provided a chance to blow off some steam.
“There has been so much negativity in the air for the past year,” he continued, “and Portlanders, now more than ever, need reasons to come together and celebrate the people, places, and things they love.”
Here are our highlights, lowlights, and other tasty bites.
Now finishing its third year, Smoked is BY FAR the best of the marquee events. This is where the big-gun chefs bust out their biggest flavors: A line at least 100 deep formed around a collab bite between Matt’s BBQ and Langbaan’s Earl Ninsom, where a spicy as fuck jungle curry was hand-poured over each tender bite of brisket and garlic rice, and San Francisco’s Liholiho Yacht Club offered house-made spam sandwiches that were achingly tender and delightfully salty. Bonus points to the volunteers who formed a dance line out of the event for meat-sweaty and wine-soaked revelers.
If you’ve got the means (and a good internet connection), I highly recommend snapping up one of the collaborative dinners when 2018 rolls around. Feast brings in big names from all over (Fat Rice in Chicago! Christina Tosi from Milk Bar in NYC!), but often the small bite format served to hundreds isn’t the best representative of their wizardry. I was lucky enough to eat at Thursday night’s Convivencia dinner at Plaza Del Toro, with headlining chef Michael Solomonov of Philadelphia’s pioneering Zahav. With more than 10 courses made with John Gorham, Sam Smith, and Kasey Mills, it was a true Mediterranean treat. Considering I’m unlikely to make it to Philly in the near future, it’s a whole lot more convenient than a plane ticket.
The after-parties are the stuff of Feast legend, and it’s almost not fair to bring it up here since many of them aren’t open to the general public. But that’s changing, as more restaurants and venues launch post-9 pm events that are Feast-adjacent. Han Oak had a pop-up almost every night in its party-ready space, Chalino hosted a free-for-all for Christina Tosi’s Milk Bar, and the Saturday Farmer’s Market is a sure-fire way to rub shoulders with out-of-town chefs agog at our late summer harvest. Even if you can’t get a ticket, keeping your eyes on social media will guarantee some decadent fun.
After six years, it’s hard to keep the main events feeling fresh—and none more so than the Sandwich Invitational. According to other attending Merc critics, this year was better than before, but it’s probably time to find another format. Portland may be at peak sandwich, but the event is past its prime. Thelin says it’s too soon to say what’s going to shift around, but added: “Every year we learn what things work, what things don’t, and what things could work better. We talk internally about what we like and what needs to change. We talk to chefs and partners. We visit other festivals here and in Portland. Most of all, we have an inspired group of team members who are not willing to rest on their laurels.”
Too Many Sweets
The Grand Tasting isn’t the best event, but it’s a stalwart filler event that allows for larger crowds, something to fill your days between other nighttime events, and a crap-ton of great wineries. But this year the bites went out of whack, with almost every vendor offering a sweet bite. After sampling all that wine, it’s a bit much.
Some chefs can’t seem to help themselves. At a lunch featuring lovely Washington wines at Jackrabbit, celeb chef Chris Cosentino addressed the assembled journalists with a note that his restaurant is in the new Duniway Hotel, named after Portland’s most famous suffragette. He then talked about how Portland has the highest per-capita number of strip clubs and that his tribute to “working girls” is a bunch of “ham ass” on a “stripper pole” in the meat room. UGH.
OTHER TASTY BITES
Feast also was a pre-opening idea fest for local chefs who are planning to open restaurants soon. One of the best bites at this year’s Night Market was the inihaw na liempo, grilled pork belly in banana leaf, from Carlo Lamagna. Meanwhile Doug Adams, of the upcoming Bullard, was literally everywhere, serving up tastes of his Texas-inspired cuisine.
Dates are already set for September 13-16, 2018. If timing is anything like this year, look for the lineup and ticket sales to go live in May. And be ready!