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In Portland, Oregon, a French restaurant serves the classics

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With several French restaurants and legends like chef Gabriel Rucker already in residence in Portland, Oregon, the city might not have expected the arrival of a newcomer, Bistro Agnes.

But Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton, the couple who won a James Beard award for their Argentine-inspired restaurant Ox, believed that Portland had lacked French classics for a few years. They wanted to create, in their former SuperBite space downtown, a Parisian-style bistro with dishes like coq au vin, escargot and sole meunière. No modern riffs here: The menu is old-school.

The cassoulet, a classic from the south of France. With Bistro Agnes, Portland gets a Parisian-style restaurant with duck confit and beef short rib bourguignon starring on the menu.
The cassoulet, a classic from the south of France. With Bistro Agnes, Portland gets a Parisian-style restaurant with duck confit and beef short rib bourguignon starring on the menu.  (JOHN VALLS / The New York Times)

The Dentons — spouses, co-chefs and business partners — met when they were both cooking at Terra Restaurant in Napa Valley. On their days off, they liked to go to places like Bistro Jeanty for leisurely lunches. “It’s the food we fell in love over,” Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton said. “We have a passion for traditional French food. Portland was missing that.”

After a lukewarm reception of their small-bite concept at SuperBite, they decided to pursue their passion. They added a brass rail in the dining room, bought an absinthe drip and hung a Jules Chéret lithograph.

Bistro Agnes opened in January, and tables have been full ever since. The dining room feels both French and Northwest, a classy bistro far removed from the nearby streetcar and freeway.

On a late-summer evening, I met a friend there for dinner. Cavalier King Charlie (a purple cocktail) set the mood, French flag toothpick on the rim. A photo of Greg Denton’s grandmother, Agnes, graced the beverage menu.

We ordered two of the lighter starters from 14 options. The local salmon carpaccio — cured and cold-smoked in-house — came with crunchy cucumber rounds, radish shavings, endive chunks, fresh dill and house-cured salmon roe. The plate was a lovely palette of orange, fuchsia, green and white.

Red and yellow heirloom tomatoes were sweet and juicy from the summer sun. Tarragon leaves and roasted Oregon hazelnuts added punch. A generous croquette of goat cheese from Briar Rose Creamery nicely complemented the tomatoes.

The duck confit was divine — crispy on the outside and almost melted inside — atop ratatouille, roasted potatoes and fresh basil. A whole, housemade fennel-duck sausage accompanied the confit.

Beef short rib bourguignon was the star. Highlighting the Dentons’ skill in traditional methods, this dish takes three days to make. The result is super tender meat with mushrooms and lardons in an unbelievably intense gravy.

We were happy to find a 2006 Bordeaux by the glass on a wine list that skews Old World. The spirits menu runs 10 pages, not including a separate absinthe sheet.

For dessert, we chose a riz au lait — creamy pudding with risotto-style rice and vanilla bean, drenched in salted caramel and dotted with almonds and fresh nectarines — which the Dentons say they order every time they go to Paris.

Unfortunately, the service did not match the quality of the food. Our server was inattentive, and his timing was a bit off. Nevertheless, the meal was outstanding. Bistro Agnes, in the middle of my hometown, captures the old-school magic of Paris.

Bistro Agnes, 527 SW 12th Ave.; 503.222.0979; bistroagnes.com. An average dinner for two, without tip or drinks, is about $110.

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Travel & Escape

Dealing with baggage on your trip

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(NC)Nothing is more embarrassing than having to unpack your baggage at the airport. It’s common to overpack because you want to make sure you have everything you need for your trip – the right shoes, a jacket in case it’s cold, a bathing suit in case there’s a pool. But you must be mindful of the baggage restrictions. So, how can you be smart with your baggage when travelling?

The first thing to do is talk to your TICO-certified travel agent about the weight restrictions and number of bags you are allowed to take. Some airlines charge per bag, while others may offer one bag for free depending on weight.

You’ll also need to know if there are security requirements for carry-on and checked baggage. For example, there may be prohibited items such as gels and liquids. These limitations vary from airline to airline and depends on if your flight is international or domestic, so you’ll need to check the policy of the airline you’re travelling with.

Naturally, you want to avoid incurring baggage fees, so talk to your travel agent, or contact the airline directly. You can also visit their website to review the luggage policy.

Here are a few more tips to help you manage your baggage when travelling:

  • Clearly label all baggage with your name, home address, and contact information
  • Place an identification tag inside the baggage in case the outside tag is torn off
  • Lock bags with CATSA/ACTSA travel locks
  • Put a colourful ribbon or other identifying marks on your bags so they are easily recognizable
  • Carry valuables in your hand luggage; jewelry, money, medications, important documents, etc.

You can’t carry everything with you, so be smart when you pack. Take only necessary items and focus on your trip.

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Travel & Escape

What travellers need to know if a destination wedding is cancelled

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(NC) It’s two weeks before you’re scheduled to attend a destination wedding and then you get the call. The wedding has been called off.

Sure, you’re upset for the couple, but now you’re faced with plane tickets and hotel reservations. So, what can you do?

There’s no reason why you can’t go and enjoy the trip, but bear in mind you may face a price increase, especially if this was part of a group booking. Group bookings often include a minimum number of travellers to get the discounted price, as well as terms and conditions regarding changes or cancellations.

You could ask other travellers to come along to keep the group discount. But name changes often count as cancellations based on the terms of the vacation package and premium charges may apply. If you booked with a TICO-registered travel agency, website or tour company, it’s better to contact them and ask about options before making any decisions.

While it’s devastating for the couple who planned the destination wedding, the fact is that the cancellation affects all the confirmed guests. So, it’s important to know your options so you can salvage an unfortunate situation. Always book with a TICO-registered travel agency, website or tour operator so you can circle back and find out what they can do for you.

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Travel & Escape

Be safe not sorry when booking travel online

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(NC) With so many travel websites available these days, many people are choosing to book their vacations from the comfort of their own home. Many travel websites are easy to navigate, and offer great vacation packages, so it seems to make sense.

But before you hit “submit”, it’s important to know what you’re getting into. Here are a few tips that can make you more aware when booking travel online:

  • Look for the TICO registration number or logo. All Ontario travel agencies and websites must be registered with TICO, the provincial travel regulator that provides consumers with protections if they don’t receive travel services. The registration number or logo is usually found in the About Us or Contact sections of the website.
  • Know where your credit card payment is going. Some websites are only search engines or booking agents for other providers.
  • Review the terms and conditions, particularly those that relate to cancellation, changes to bookings and refunds. Know what the travel agent or tour operator’s responsibilities are.
  • Keep a paper copy of your transactions, correspondence and confirmations.
  • Double check which currency the prices are quoted in. You could be paying in Euros instead of Canadian dollars.
  • Keep in mind that tax amounts can vary in travel advertisements. Ontario travel agencies and websites can display their taxes in four different ways:
    • A total price
    • A base price plus total taxes, fees and additional charges
    • A base price with a detailed breakdown
    • All taxes, fees and additional charges.
  • Research your destination to find out if there are any travel advisories, which can be found on the Government of Canada website.
  • Check the online travel agency’s website for a live-chat feature, email address or toll-free number to talk to a travel agent. Travel agents are a great resource to answer any questions you may have to ensure you are making an informed travel purchase.

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