I have an affinity for green chilies. Having spent a good chunk of my life split between Southern California, Arizona, and Texas, green chilies have been a dietary staple of mine since sprouting teeth. They are all my children, but I take a particular shine to the variety known as Anaheim.
When roasted, the Anaheim green chili is the cornerstone ingredient of my favorite salsa, relleno, and of course, green chili soup. There are a number of palate-friendly locales that dot the Portland landscape. The area is known for concocting daring dishes born from fresh, seasonal ingredients. While soup is definitely at the forefront of this culinary alchemy, the melding of southwest flavors isn’t exactly something that Beer Town is known for.
Enter Veritable Quandary. The Pacific Northwest landmark has been a mainstay of the downtown Portland dining scene since 1971. Known for its outdoor patio, old-Portland style bar, and cozy dining area, VQ has been quietly gaining notoriety for something very non-Northwest: green chili soup. I was seated at a comfortable nook in the dining room of VQ that afforded a picturesque view of the downtown waterfront. When the soup arrived, it was accompanied by a loaf of artisan bread and a perfectly paired glass of Bethel Heights Pinot Blanc. The soup presented nicely, with visible chunks of chicken and a couple of fresh cilantro sprigs resting near the center. This wasn’t the sort of soup that needed several tastes to fully appreciate its complexity. I got the idea after the first spoonful; all flavors, all upfront, and all at once.
The soup, however, was not overpowering or over seasoned in the slightest. On the contrary, the soup just contains balanced, perfectly layered flavors. The main ingredients are roasted Anaheim and pablano chilies along with tomatillos. The mix is expertly complimented with cilantro, garlic, onion, and toasted pepitas. Coriander and cumin round out the flavor and tender chicken or pulled pork provide the protein. The finished product is a wide rimmed bowl of what green chili soup should taste like, thanks to Annie Cuggino. Chef Annie Cuggino is no stranger to flavorful food. Having honed her craft in the restaurants of New York and New Orleans, Cuggino clearly understands how to weave flavors into bold, esculent tapestries. In fact, there are several items on the menu at VQ that are a testament to this ability. A taste of the Duck Confit Spring Rolls or the Osso Bucco will remove any lingering doubt; though truth be told, she had me at the green chili soup.