It was with a sad sigh that I read on social media on on Tuesday that Wildwood Restaurant would be closing in 1 week (on February 25).
When I was thinking of moving to Portland in 2007, I was not sure I would like it. I was born and raised in Chicago and lived there all my life- the bustling metropolis with its diversity and food scene were something I was very attached to. When I thought of Portland from my previous visits (usually for a long weekend to visit F, as we were only friends then and not romantically linked), I remember it being the opposite- not very diverse, and the food couldn’t compare to the level at Chicago. At the time, a visit to Rogue Brewing and a meal at Edgefield or Kennedy School McMenamins were the highlights.
By 2007, F and I had been dating for a while, and he had tried living in Chicago but still longed to return to Portland. Instead of a weekend, we planned a one week trip for me to see what Portland had to offer.
We were shocked at the changes we saw when we came- the Pearl District had come out of nowhere, and Pioneer Square was no longer hippie/transit central (at at least there was a lot less). I picked out the restaurants to try out, and Wildwood was one of them. It opened my eyes and tastebuds to what Northwest cuisine meant, and I loved it. Portland had promise after all. I moved here a year later.
Photos above by Sunpech Photography
Since moving here, I’ve dined at Wildwood many times for lunch and dinner. It is one of the first places that comes to mind to recommend to anyone, particularly out of town visitors who are new to Portland. When my in-laws, including my mother-in-law who is afraid of flying, came to visit, this was at the top of my list of where I wanted to take them. I tried to take my parents too but the available reservation time was too late in the evening, so I shrugged it off, thinking “next visit”. I’m sad I won’t be able to take them now.
Wildwood is of course not the only restaurant that uses local seasonal ingredients, but they do so in a perfect blend of classic and new by including some less utilized local ingredients or in new combinations. The atmosphere is both refined and casual, classy but not pretentious. The booths offer cushy private spaces, while the chef’s counter gives you a front row seat to the rhythm and magic of their open kitchen. They changed up their menu frequently so it was also an adventure of discovery to see what they had now with any visit.
Here are a few food memories (I had a lot to choose from, but didn’t want to go overboard with this post!) that I wanted to highlight of memorable food moments at Wildwood for me. This is where it pays off that I’ve been photographing food for so long to help me remember, since visuals help spark memories for me of that week of discovery.
From that decisive, impressive Lunch at Wildwood that gave me faith in Portland’s food scene in 2007:
Crispy duck confit with microgreens and oranges and a sprinkle of almonds.
Chestnut ravioli with roasted d’anjou pears, cider brown butter and almonds. We both really liked this concept of a fruity sauce on the pasta rather then a tomato-based or cream sauce.
House cured ham (it was juicy!) and gruyere and grilled onion sandwich with house made potato chips. It sound simple, but there was something about how this still tasted different and unique from Chicago, something so very Portland- I would say it’s the taste of the locality here.
Another Lunch – for a while, I was part of a Lunch Club with a few coworkers, until our group got broken up by too many reorganizations and cubicle moves and changes of managers and layoffs. They were among the first friends I made when I moved here, and the first where I revealed I had a food blog and wasn’t embarrassed to pull out my camera to take photos of food.
An appetizer of puree of butternut squash soup’s depth of flavor was elevated by the guajillo creme fraiche and toasted pumpkin seeds
Braised cattail creek lamb stuffed crepes with carrot puree, sauteed lacinato kale, frisee, almonds, goat cheese and minted meyer lemon yogurt. The picture pretty much sums it up, with all those textures and all those tastes on the human tongue of salt, sweet, sour, hints of bitter and comforting savory were blending together here
I have a blog entry about the Wildwood and Breakside Brewery Beer Dinner I enjoyed in 2012, but I wanted to highlight this particular food and beer pairing: Pastrami pork belly éclair spring onion, pickled chile cream cheese icing paired with Newport Summer Ale. I think I could have had 3 or 4 of these. Wildwood for a while was doing a sublime series of food and beer pairing dinners.
Oh, and the fabulous cocktails at the bar. Wildwood has/had 🙁 an amazing bar and craft cocktails using seasonal ingredients and local distilleries. I don’t have as many photos of these, but I did have a couple:
Wildwood cocktail of Oh Snap! Tanqueray, cointreau, mint tincture, lemon, and sugar snap peas puree
Wildwood Cocktail of The Naughty Kitty with pimm’s, india lemongrass, lime and strawberry puree
The cocktail “An Apple a Day” was made with calvados, tuaca, fresh lemon, egg white, rosemary, and apple gastrique.
Below is not my photos, but that of my brother of Sunpech Photography when I took him on a Forktown Food Tour of the Alphabet District while he was visiting me.
Spicy martini using crème de pêche and New Deal Hot Monkey chili vodka (the name eludes me, sorry!)
I will miss you Wildwood, and I shake my fist at how the lease negotiations did not work out. But best of luck to everyone there as they go forth on their new endeavors. If you could pick a new location for your place closer to my home, that would be cool too. 🙂
There will be one more post- I was able to eat there for dinner last night, but I would like to squeeze in one more, a lunch so that my first and last meals at Wildwood Restaurant will be a lunch.
Is there a restaurant in Portland that holds a lot of memories and meaning for you?