The restaurant has a lovely setting on the Willamette River

Flying to Portland to eat out is pregnant with farm-to-table restaurants, in one of the great eating cities in the world. The city of James Beard, and a city that has plenty of James Beard award winning restaurants, as well as a group of restaurants- were they in other parts of the country, would win James Beard awards.

Our mission, taking my parents out for Thanksgiving dinner. My 85 year old mother was my inspiration for being a professional eater – a cook, and herself one of the finest cooks I have ever enjoyed. Mom’s eyesight all but gone from macular degeneration, means cooking for her has gone from a joy to a chore. My mother is a picky eater, because she is a precise cook.  She will sniff imperfect fish two tables away and ask the waiter to remove it – even if the patrons are enjoying it she will insist better for them.

Open Table had a list of restaurants offering the bird, and Aquariva was on the list. One of our favorite hotels to stay in Portland is The Avalon,  which is on the same property.

The sum of it: The turkey was bland, poorly seasoned, and dry. The stuffing was tasty, but lacked seasoning.  The potatoes were uninspired.  The cranberry sauce was a simple reduction in sugar-water. The squash was simply cut, baked, and unseasoned. The room itself was cold – apparently someone didn’t know that ambient temperature for humans is above 65 degrees F, perhaps they were making up for their over-cooked turkey. My mother said, “I should have ordered the steak,”  which is her code for, “This restaurant should be able to make that one right.”

Thanksgiving Feast Disappoints

This restaurant has a lovely setting along the Willamette River, a modest but not-overpriced wine list. They do make a good steak, as it turns out, as well as a fine roasted chicken.  One would think if you master a good roasted chicken that you could  roast a turkey – alas, they cannot. Perhaps because on this day most restaurants give their staff the day off, perhaps because this was not normal fare. 14 years ago my parents had their 50th wedding anniversary here, and when we come to Portland it is one restaurant that my mother will agree to come to.

But I could imagine a great Thanksgiving – a fresh turkey from a local farm, great cranberry sauce with some savory local onions, and served with potatoes that were accompanied by a gravy that came from the turkey, not a can. Alas, next year we are up for another Thanksgiving – and if we are all here, we shall be thankful, and we shall find another restaurant in Portland to take them to. It won’t be Aquariva.

P.S.  We welcome your suggestions for fine dining and/or holiday meals in Portland.