Thursday, July 22, 2010

Portland Part I - The Kennedy School and DOC

McMenamins Kennedy School Hotel - Portland

Have you ever fallen asleep in class? If not, now's your chance! That's the gist of the tagline of this quirky hotel just outside of downtown Portland, and it suits them well. It's housed in a converted school building that was built in 1916 and closed in the 1970s. It was fully renovated by the McMenamin's operation in the 90s or thereabouts, and includes not just 32 rooms - converted from former classrooms - but no fewer than five bars, a restaurant with a huge outdoor courtyard, a soaking pool, brewery and movie theater. There are no TVs in the rooms but you'll never miss them - you'll be too busy drinking their house-brewed beer and distilled spirits in the pubs, playing pool or shuffleboard in the Boiler Room bar, soaking up the sun in the courtyard, taking in the two nightly movies - or paddling around in the salt water soaking pool.
McMenamin's Kennedy School - Room

The above photo is of our room - complete with the classroom cloakroom lining one wall. Looking all that long row of hooks took me right back to Marcy Elementary. The rooms are comfortable and spacious, but free of bells and whistles - I had to ask for a hair dryer at the front desk. It did have beautiful high windows, a king size bed and a bathroom with shower stall though - not bad at all for $140. per night. It was also right across the hall from the restaurant, making for an easy stroll to breakfast (and back from the bar at closing time.)
McMenamins Kennedy School - Portland

The buildings are arranged around a huge garden courtyard. It's empty here because it was about 100 degrees at the time - but on most summer days it would be perfectly comfortable. In the winter I bet that giant fireplace puts out some heat.
McMenamins Kennedy School - Portland

The front desk is in the original school office through the archway, complete with lift up countertop. I'm pretty sure there was no refrigerator full of beer in there though when the elementary schoolers were running around.
McMenamin's Kennedy School Pub

Two of the five onsite bars, the Honors Bar and the Detention (cigar) bar are tiny, housed in what look like supply closets. We spent most of our time in the Boiler Room bar, playing pool and shuffleboard and sipping the house-brewed Hammerhead Red Ale and cocktails made with Penney's Gin and citrus juices.
McMenamins Kennedy School Courtyard Bar

The Courtyard is the only restaurant on site, and also houses a copper lined bar. To be polite, the food is not a draw at McMenamins. They have a good hummus plate with warm pita bread, and the tater tots with peppercorn ranch are shamelessly irresistible, but the menu sticks to fry cook fare - burgers, quesadillas, a few salads, etc. Luckily, two of Portland's best restaurants are within an easy walk...
DOC - Portland

On our first night, we ventured into the warm evening to walk five blocks or so to DOC, a tiny gem of a restaurant on the same 30th street corridor as Beast, and owned by the same group. (We went to Beast the following night, so both of our dinners in Portland were - somewhat ironically - eaten on the same block.)

DOC - Portland
We sat on the sidewalk at the empty table pictured above since the weather was pleasant by that time - the sun having gone over a bit.
DOC - Portland

The menu is influenced more by seasonal and regional ingredients than a strict Italian theme, which was just fine with us. Wanting to try as much of it as possible, we opted to both order the 5 course tasting menu ($50.) when our server told us they would bring us each something different. In essence, we received a 10 course tasting menu for two, for $100. James also order the wine pairings, and I opted for a cocktail followed by a glass of white (and a taste of each of his pairings, of course.)

This bread and olive plate was the first thing to arrive at the table. You know that saying that you can tell how good a restaurant is by it's bread? It worked here. It was ethereally light and airy inside but with the perfect amount of chew and crispness in the crust. A great foil to the grassy, rich olives.
Bread, butter and olives at DOC

My first course was a tongue salad with beets and horseradish creme fraiche. The photo doesn't do it justice - it was savory, spicy and rich - and the tongue was as thinly shaved as the greens. It almost belonged on a gourmet Jewish deli menu - a borscht salad. (How about that for a restaurant idea? Nouveau Jewish Deli...)
Chard, Tongue and Beet Salad with Creme Fraiche at DOC

James received clams with spicy chorizo - a dish that surprised us since it was not on the menu. These were sweet, garlicky and spicy and gave us something to mop up with the bread.
Clams with Chorizo at DOC

I really wish I had thought to write the wine pairings down, because many of them were unusual. What surprised us most about this place was the incredible service and serious approach to food and wine, it seemed out of sync in a way with the tiny size and informal atmosphere - it made the place a gem, vs. a nice little spot for a bite and a glass of wine.
DOC - Portland

We had another course in here, a gnocchi for James and a risotto for me. These were the weakest dishes, which is interesting because they sounded the best to me on the menu. The gnocchi was served with slivered snap peas and carrots, and the risotto with morels and peas. The risotto was not risotto, it was simply rice - and the gnocchi was a little over cooked. We were able to push this around on our plates and out of our memory once the next course arrived though...
Salmon with Grilled Romaine, Chanterelles and Lemon Cream at DOC

The salmon dish, pictured above, made up for everything. The crispy skinned filet was propped on a small grilled romaine heart, with sauteed chanterelles and a lemon mousseline cream. The cream complimented the romaine and the salmon just perfectly. The flavors were reminiscent of a Caesar salad - with the seafood, lemon and romaine, but so much better. The cream was really unusual - the tiniest bit sweet, just to eliminate any bitterness, and rich but silken and light. It was simple but just different enough to be genius.
Pork with Apricots and Green Beans - DOC

James received the pork, which they informed us was slaughtered the day before. It was very simply served with apricots and pole beans. It was nice, but the meat could have been more tender and a sauce would not have hurt. It was about this time that the mosquitos started in on us. We went from swatting a few every so often to "Oh my God we're being eaten alive!" in the space of a few minutes.
DOC - Portland

DOC - Portland
After the main course, we had to retreat to the dining room to escape. I wasn't disappointed, since I wanted to experience the inside of the restaurant too. I loved the way the kitchen was just inside the front door. I'm pretty sure that isn't legal here, and even if it were it wouldn't work in most places since the kitchens aren't that - shall we say - decorative? I wasn't able to take any more food photos in the dim lighting - but we moved on to a perfect cheese course - a small slice of Tillston Point blue cheese accompanied by a grape must jam for me, and another cheese for James that he loved just as well. Our server/sommelier concocted a little dessert wine cocktail for James as his pairing.

Dessert arrived soon after - a cherry almond crostata with creme fraiche, and a sliver of rich chocolate cake with coffee ice cream. With this I ordered a pot of coffee - which they made in a vacuum pot, a glass contraption that looks like a chemistry set, using Stumptown beans. I could tell when he was done and had poured the cup that he was just daring me to ask for cream. I tasted it to see if it was needed, and it was perfect. In fact, if it weren't such an ordeal, I'd consider buying one to use at home. We finished off the meal with a sip of grappa as an aperitif.

After a much-needed post-prandial constitutional through the tree-lined streets of Concordia, we whiled away the rest of the evening (and an hour or two of the next morning) playing tabletop shuffleboard and pool in the hotel's Boiler Room bar.

I don't know if I can speak for James, but it was the best date I've been on in a long, long time!

McMenamin's Kennedy School
5736 Northeast 33rd Avenue
Portland, OR 97211
(503) 249-3983

5519 Northeast 30th Avenue
Portland, OR 97211
(503) 946-8592


  1. I stayed at the Kennedy School about 10 years ago & loved it.

  2. Looks like such a cool hotel. Portland is on my list of "must-visit" cities, and I can't wait to go!

  3. This brought back some good memories of our family reunion in Portland at the Kennedy School a few years ago. Love it!

  4. Firefly guy7/24/10, 9:51 AM

    Love the hotel and the restaurant! I have a new trip idea! Fantastic report!

  5. Alice! Not sure if you remember me. I'm a friend of Janine's from High School... I just went to your blog to find a restaurant recommendation for my sister and her husband who came down from LA to celebrate their Anniversary and saw that you are/were in Portland! If you happen to still be there you have to let me know. One of my best friends, Lisa Herlinger, is a chef and owns a company called Ruby Jewel Treats - she makes the most amazing ice cream sandwiches. Anyway, she and her sister just opened a scoop shop in Portland on Mississippi Ave. that you should check out if you have time. She would also have a ton of restaurant recommendations if you and James need any - there is no lack of great food in Portland so i'm sure you're all set. Anyway, Lisa is so much fun to talk to about food so if you want to get in touch with her let me know. Enjoy Portland! Jenny

  6. Oops. you can reach me at or you can email Lisa directly

  7. such a good recap hubby and i are planning a trip to portland in oct for our 10th anniversary, so i'm thinking we'll have to work DOC into our plans.

  8. @Jenny - of course I remember you! That sounds like a really cool shop - will def have to check it out on the next trip!

    @Joslyn - You will love it! Beast is just around the corner and I just haven't gotten to that writeup yet, but I will soon!! They are both amazing!