After I was on leave for 49 weeks, NPY started his three weeks of parental leave and I took a week of vacation to overlap and we went with another couple and their eight-month-old on a mini Pacific Northwest trip. I really should look up if the last time I was in Portland was in 2008 or 2009 for Black Friday shopping during our heyday. But as I realized early last year, Portland is happening now, and I had tried to return earlier this year for a Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon but that was not to be. That Portland is more a sought-out destination now is reflected in our difficulty finding modestly priced accommodations until we relaxed our requirements on how many bathrooms our Air BnB has. My recollection is rose-tinted but wasn’t our (Marriott) hotel rate seven or eight years ago like just $100 per night?? NPY was game to return because it has been a long while and he and T of TB (the other couple) were eager to get beer from the source at several breweries in Beervana.
After a long day of driving (5.5 hours starting from 10 a.m. with stops at a rest stop outside of Bellingham, Seattle, and Olympia and then long stretch to Portland), we couldn’t think too much about what to get for dinner. By the waning light, we couldn’t tell where we really were and our options seemed to be rapidly diminishing in the late evening on the eve of July 4th. I called around to the nearby Asian restaurants recommended by our Air BnB host and only found Mekong Bistro was open. Squee. I like SE Asian food and looked forward to having more throughout the trip as we hadn’t received any Chinese food recommendations!
NPY and TB when out and placed and picked up the order and didn’t do too badly with their selection of pad Thai, chicken wings, pineapple fried rice and (deconstructed) pho. Of note, the chicken wings hit the spot and the pho’s garlicky broth.
Nine years ago, when I was last in Portland, I’m guessing Blue Star was not yet around. For these artisanal donut shops for the cleaned-up hipster only popped up, what, five years ago? When we saw Lucky’s and Cartem’s in Vancouver? Because for me and NPY, Voodoo Donuts are a tad overrated, the divey one we visited at midnight so long ago was a turn-off, and the donuts aren’t pleasing to the eye and nothing special to taste. This time around, everyone recommended Blue Star and since they close for the day when they run out, we had to visit a shop as a first order of business and not “sometime in the mid-afternoon”. I tweeted at them twice asking if they would be open when so little seemed to be on July 4 and got a response the night before that they would be open. Wahoo!
You can’t miss the storefront because of the queue outside the door. It was nuts, how many people want to go to a given place and the queues we would brave but we waited it out because what else do we have to do? TB wondered if it was all tourists and concluded it might largely be so because locals wouldn’t need to take photos of everything.
We enjoyed the donuts – vanilla cinnamon sugar, lemon poppyseed buttermilk, cider apple fritter and peanut butter & jelly – a few steps over at Heart. We were not the only ones at the coffee shop brandishing Blue Star Donut boxes but we were the only ones inside laying out and eating donuts. We did order a drink each. The lemon poppyseed was the frontrunner for favourites and I liked the apple fritter which had a chewy exterior and was thoroughly moist inside.
We ended up going to Heart twice. It was fun when trip planning with TB to list out where we wanted to go and then find logical groupings. For example, “the Blue Star Donuts and Heart is close by”. While we amused the babies at the communal table, the guys lined up for coffee. It was the slowest imaginable even though we had spent nearly half an hour waiting for donuts.
We went a second time after our lunch at Screen Door.
Going to the outlets seemed to be at odds with having a good day of eating. A quick Google search confirmed there was nothing interesting between Portland and Woodburn – not a brewery or restaurant. Once we arrived at Woodburn Premium Outlets, we could see the chain restaurants just outside of the maze of stores. I wasn’t opposed to getting a ramen burger from Red Robin and Panera sounded like a good choice for a quick bite. But it turned out to be vastly disappointing because it seems like their Pick 2 portions got smaller while the prices got higher. Little E didn’t care a wit and could have endless chicken noodle soup, it seems.
When browsing which stores are at Woodburn (it has been nine years), Willamette Valley Pie Company caught my eye. Would they have savoury pies? Their website did not indicate so. Their presence at the outlets which generally has a dearth of even decent food made me skeptical but we walked by it and it couldn’t hurt to browse!
NPY’s favourite, apple pie, came into three varieties, like French Apple, American Apple and British or something but NPY noticed an item I did not, handwritten and off to the side of the main chalkboard menu: a Red, White and Blue Pie with raspberry, apple and blueberry. It only now occurs to me how appropo it was for us given it was July 4. We ordered it with a side of ice cream and I even asked for some whipped cream which is a free topping. ;D You don’t know how pleased I was to see that they had soft serve ice cream instead of who-knows-what brand. They are NPY’s favourite fruits in a pie with ice cream. He was satisfied all-round.
At some points, I felt like it was a grave misstep to plan our trip over the July 4th weekend. We are accustomed to everything being open on stat holidays but that was not the case with so many restaurants we considered. When we left Heart and walked past Grassa and Lardo, NPY remarked that the idea of handmade pasta sounded good and it looked cool inside. So when we were driving to Woodburn, I pulled up both of their websites and called one of them. Not remembering which number I had dialed, I asked if I had reached Lardo and was informed I hadn’t. But he could tell me that both establishments would be open for dinner. That was friendly of him to speak on behalf of his neighbour but I didn’t know just close they are.
When I realized it was counter service at Grassa and you aren’t guaranteed a spot when your food is ready, it didn’t seem to wise with babies in tow. Further, Grassa’s seating was stools at high counter tables and a couple of booths that made me uneasy how much food was lurking in the corners. Fortunately, if there wasn’t seating available, we were invited to grab a spot in Lardo next door and we found appropriate seating even if I was jammed up next to their clean-up area. While we waited for our food, we also could evaluate the Lardo menu. I tried to plant the idea in NPY’s head to get Lardo’s Dirty Fries (topped with pork scraps, marinated peppers, fried herbs and parmesan!) but he wouldn’t bite. He didn’t even go for having regular fries, but he did get a beer.
Bucatini is a recent find for me. I knew it existed but didn’t purchase any until a recent fantastic sale at London Drugs. They are awfully fun to work with and springy. As it would happen both of our pasta dishes were prepared with bucatini and it seems to be a more filling pasta. While NPY’s carbonara was a bit light and creamy, my pesto with roasted almonds and melted ricotta hit all the right notes with a burst of flavour and a great crunch.
I had a bite of the mac ‘n’ cheese and it looks deceptively light. With a heavy dose of cheese and pork belly topping, TB were very full after this pasta dinner.
To kick things off in Portland, NPY and TB went to the new-ish Portland locations of Oregon’s big breweries, Rogue and Deschutes, in the Pearl District. Both breweries had 24-ounce total volume of beer in their flights so they were hurting a little afterwards!
From what I could tell, TB was most excited to go to Coava (pronounced “coe-va”) and we had to choose between the espresso bar and the brew bar, neither of which were close to other places we were going to. We decided on the espresso bar because it was slightly closer to our Air BnB and I wish we had gone to the other one instead/as well!
Food cart pod (on 9th between Alder and Washington)
To kick off a Portland downtown-centric day (the kind NPY likes), we went to the food cart pod on 9th between Alder and Washington. With over 60 carts, it’s the largest food cart pod in North America or something. TB wondered how you could have 60 carts and we found that if the carts ring around a large city block with ~15 carts on each edge, you have 60 carts. NPY and I walked around and around looking for famed Nong’s Khao Man Gai and didn’t find it. No wonder, it was just across the street where surplus carts had set up.
Nong’s was quick to deliver their specialty and I don’t even remember if there was anything else on their menu. I was getting their highly recommended chicken rice and nothing more because I wanted to try other food! The accompanying soup was excellent and tastes like home and prepares you for the simple chicken rice dish ahead. I groaned at the sight of the parsley sprigs but didn’t taste any cilantro flavour at all. Weird. The chicken breast was tender, a testament it was cooked properly, and seasoned well. It wasn’t over the top and addicting like, say, Cafe D’Lite or Mui Garden in Vancouver. The rice lightly and adequately flavoured and not the grease (and yummy) bomb Mui Garden’s is.
During this lunch, we split from TB who arrived a little later than we did. It was truly a casual lunch. They told us they got Spam musubi from Island Grill [Yelp] and in fact they would get it again as they passed by the pod the next day. NPY spied they had rice combinations and I could have selected teriyaki chicken, BBQ meats to go with the rice but I went with loco moco even though there was a small additional charge. It took a little while for it to be prepared but it was delectable and truly indulgent. The macaroni salad was simple and didn’t seem like enough once we started. Two fried eggs topped two scoops of rice topped two large, thick patties soaked in gravy. We ate this over a waist-height ledge in O’Bryant Park. It was super casual.
While we waited (and waited) for our loco moco to be fresh and hot prepared, NPY observed many people come up to neighbouring The Whole Bowl and he suggested we order one. It seemed uncharacteristic of him as the only ingredient in their bowl that NPY enjoys is the rice and it’s brown rice to boot. The Whole Bowl serves just one dish and it is described with an illustration: a rice bowl topped with black and red beans, Tali sauce, salsa, black olives, avocado, sour cream, Tillamook cheddar cheese and cilantro. When I ordered, the bowlista asked if I wanted everything and that’s when I nixed the cilantro, of course. The tangy and creamy Tali sauce did it – it was a deliciously tied together rice bowl and when we finished this and the other two dishes, I felt more full than I can remember recently.
Another place everyone recommends is Salt & Straw. I’m always down for ice cream even if it comes before dinner which is what awkwardly happen when we wrapped up at the International Test Rose Garden and it was too early for dinner. We split from TB saying we’d meet at the Salt & Straw near Pok Pok … and didn’t see them for hours. “Do you think they got tired of us?” I asked NPY. While we queued for over 20 minutes in what a local had deeemed to be the shortest she has seen the line, I imagined that something came up like Little T had to feed then subsequently have a diaper change. Then we finally realized that NPY had navigated to the wrong Salt & Straw, that Pok Pok was not just down the street from the one we were waiting at.
We could have had many decent sized tasters but limited ourselves to four and in the ended ordered a waffle cone with a scoop of Gin-Spiced Blackberry Jam & Chocolate Chips atop a scoop of Stumptown Coffee & Burnside Bourbon. The scoops were impressively large and flavours really fun.
We returned to Salt & Straw (Alberta location) after our Bamboo Sushi dinner and had another waffle cone with a scoop of Roasted Berries & Toasted White Chocolate atop a scoop of Chocolate Gooey Brownie.
Everywhere you look, Pok Pok is recommended. From BIL to TB’s friends to lists of places to eat in Portland. I was excited. I also heard their seating was casual, their queues very long and their menu complex. Best to get take-out. On the evening we accidentally split up from TB, they were at the Salt & Straw location near Pok Pok and made a take out order. As a consequence, I never had the opportunity to pore over the menu. All I knew was that we had to have their chicken wings and papaya salad!
The chicken wings were different from what I expected. Phnom Penh and sister restaurant Indochine in Vancouver are well known for their wings with buttery pepper dipping sauce so I was expecting that and better. But fish sauce wings do not have a crispy coat. However it was very tasty and the wings were deceptively large. The papaya salad was really nice and came with a huge spicy kick. I confess I didn’t try the combo dish with rice and the meat topping such that I don’t even really know what it was.
I saw mention of Tasty n Alder (and Tasty n Sons) in a list I liked and suggested it. They served brunch every day and are John Gorham restaurants. Who is John Gorham, I still don’t know, but when we left, there were a bunch of business cards and I suspect he heads a Portland restaurant empire and also started the Bravo (Pollo and Toro) joints. There was a small wait for lunch and we were seated at a great small round table seating the six of us.
Tasty n Alder (and Sons) are “family style” which is a bit of a different concept for brunch but when TB wanted to order their own things, delicious dishes including Tasty Hangtown Fry (Willapa Bay fried oysters, bacon lardons, cheddar, buttermilk biscuit) and Tasty Steak & Cheddar Eggs, NPY and I were left to our devices. Ever the “rice bucket”, NPY ordered the Bim Bop Bacon & Eggs and I was free to put together a few smaller items that added up in cost the same as one individual dish. Fun stuff!
The lemon ricotta pancake was super moist and I’m glad “blueberry syrup” was actually a good amount of blueberries that had been in light syrup.
A small order of spiced potatoes bravas with a runny egg I gave to NPY.
For a while, it I thought a lot of people were ordering the Bim Bop Bacon & Eggs and it came in a large translucent bowl like a salad, like it wasn’t hot. It didn’t sound promising. But, sure enough, in a piping hot stone bowl making wicked crispy rice we got a modest sized brunch-influenced bibimbop. Bacon! And eggs!
And, finally, the item that I selected all the other small items around. The chocolate potato doughnut was served with creme Anglais and had a slightly crunchy exterior and moist and chocolately center. Split four ways, it was a great last bite to brunch.
When I was looking up breweries to visit aside from the big ones everyone has heard of, I came across an article about shiny new breweries. There’s nothing worse (haha) than thinking that a brewery sounds cool but then arriving and finding it’s a dive, and minors are not allowed into their big pub (ahem, Moon Under Water). Nearly all of the six breweries listed caught my fancy and I kept niggling NPY (and TB) to go to Culmination. Why? It was relatively close to the Air BnB we were staying in, and that’s about it. Ecliptic, Ex Novo and Baerlic sounded like they had more interesting beers, but it’s not me drinking!
After Tasty brunch (at Tasty n Alder) and before spending an afternoon indoors at Lloyd Center (shopping at Ross!), we took a little detour to Culmination because it was the smallest detour on that route. NPY liked their new digs in a new warehouse and like an eager schoolchild marked in chalk on the tasting paddle which beers he wanted to try. You can cross reference them if you please but I’m finding the tasting flights in Portland are large at at least five samples and I don’t remember all of NPY’s vague comments about each one. The flavours and hues of the brews spanned the (beer) rainbow and it was his favourite brewery on the trip. They only had two bottled beers at the time so we didn’t buy any to go.
I hadn’t expected to eat sushi in Portland which seems more like an SE Asian food mecca but Bamboo Sushi’s brand and commitment to sustainability intrigued us so we made time for it for our last dinner. It was also our opportunity to glimpse the Alberta area of Portland.
On a side note, Little E is bonkers for spherical-shaped objects right now – balls, balloons, circles, you name it – so he went a little beserk in the restaurant because there were strings of white paper lanterns and red oval ones with a Kanji character. Anyhow…
Since each couple would be choosing several dishes to share, we went our separate ways from TB in terms of ordering so we didn’t have to discuss and waste that kind of time. We ordered a seaweed salad, truffled avocado nigiri, tuna poke that was so small, hangar steak and the vegetarian PDX Roll which has so many ingredients (7!) that no wonder it took so long to arrive and fortunately we were comped it. TB ordered a selection of nigiri which was probably the best way to see what this restaurant is all about.
With little bossbabies in tow and our propensity to eat dinner more like at 6:00 than at 5:00 p.m., that leaves less time between when we are back at the Air BnB and babies are taken care of and closing time of the breweries. Another big one I wanted them to check out was Widmer Brothers (closed at 10 p.m. because it’s a little further out) and suggested they visit Ex Novo after which was in the same neighbourhood and closed at 11:00 p.m. But they had spied the rooftop patio of 10 Barrel Brewing in the Pearl District and wanted since the first night out to check it out.
When TB and I started throwing the names of restaurants into a spreadsheet we were sharing, Screen Door appeared and we didn’t know who had put it in. I checked out the menu and vaguely remembered seeing the name maybe once. It was T who really wanted to go and after looking at the menu, I was down for it, too. There is Chewies in Vancouver but that’s about all we go to and infrequently.
The queue was about half an hour when we arrived straight from checking out of the Air BnB at 11 a.m. So we decided what we wanted to order while waiting and our patience was rewarded with a table on their covered patio. What a great way to cap off the week. After short consultation with the waiter, the guys decided to get one piece of chicken with their chicken and waffles (you can get up to three) as each one is the size of a donut. And then we waited. We waited between half an hour and forty-five minutes and the babies got restless.
Each piece of chicken in the chicken and waffles is a meaty breast and it was seasoned well and stayed juicy after frying. Waffles were light and crisp and NPY pronounced the meal his favourite of the trip.
To maximize the diversity of our meal, I ordered a lunch item and what better lunch for me than a fried oyster po’boy where you get to select your side and an option is mac ‘n’ cheese?? Little E hungrily devoured his share of mac ‘n’ cheese and I reluctantly split my po’boy with NPY, giving up two juicy oysters in its fresh bread and vegetable bed.
TB also ordered chicken and waffles (just one piece) and shrimp and grits. The latter, of which I sampled a little, was proclaimed to be rich and creamy, a bit like shrimp bisque. Despite the long queue, it was so positive an experience we could brave it again.
After lunch at Screen Door, we were ready to leave Oregon and NPY had a lofty goal to hit up Target, Walmart and Costco in the tax-free state but I wanted him to squeeze in another brewery since it was on the way (ish) anyhow. He says that I just wanted to be able to say that I had “been to Base Camp”. ‘Tis true but it was also a cool brewery. NPY tried a little of their S’More Stout which when you order a full glass comes with a roasted marshmallow, and a full glass of a saison or something. We liked their tulip glass with the translucent band and took one home. I also liked their t-shirts (for NPY to wear) but he declined to get one.
Okay, here are the places we hit up in Seattle because I’m not going to start a separate post for Seattle!!
Years ago, I heard about Paseo and added it to my little Remember The Milk “Travel Dining” list. But it never seemed right to go north of Seattle to get a casual sandwich lunch. It did seem appropriate while we were on our way to Portland, however. There was a fair amount of grumbling from NPY as we left the highway and detoured about 10 minutes from our I-5 route to Portland. A sandwich shop? Why? But the consistently long queue while we were there is part of the answer.
Amazingly, NPY found exactly what would hit the spot for him which was the trio including chicken thighs, black beans and rice. It inspires me to make black beans this way so we can have saucy rice but a different flavour.
I got the Caribbean Roast sandwich because it was too much pressure to read all the descriptions and it sounded like a safe bet being listed as the most popular. Everything about it was enormous and I finished it all. It was a really messy meal but it definitely tied us through to dinner.
We arrived and settled into our Seattle Ballard-area Air BnB by 8:00 p.m. so we knew it was another take out evening. After browsing through the suggestions provided by our host in a binder, we elected to have Thai food. Cheap and comfort after that drive that got us, at least, halfway back to Vancouver. This time around, I was making the choices which wasn’t so very hard: a soup (Tom Yum Gai – chicken), spring rolls, two different curries (masaman and red curry) and for the fun of it, a “Thai pasta” dish.
The guys went to pick up the order and informed us that they made summer rolls in error so we got those for free and fortunately, too. The spring rolls were non-fabulous with the mushy filling while the summer rolls were fresh and bright even if I didn’t finish mine because of the presence of cilantro. On first glance, we couldn’t tell the soup (which was unexpectedly creamy) from the masaman curry but after inspecting the meat in each tub and their volumes, we figured it out. It still felt like when we were drinking the soup alone, we were actually drinking curry! The red curry volume was less than I expected and didn’t stand out. I liked the “pasta” dish a lot which was flat sheets of rice noodle served with ground meat and vegetables in a light sauce. It is in keeping with me liking rice noodles in a light sauce (“wet fry”) more than the more common dry stir-fried rice noodle dishes.
We were out of the Air BnB at 11:00 and eager to get downtown. TB would finally get to try Salumi which they haven’t managed to because they are closed on the weekends when one most often makes a Seattle road trip. But… it was closed! Their website did not provide this information but I learned from their voicemail that it just happened to be the week of their Annual Summer Shutdown! So we were at Elm strategizing and I got to try an espresso shortbread they sell from London Plane.
Ever since learning about Pike Place Chowder from Olly several Seattle visits back and only trying one chowder, I wanted to go back for their sampler of four chowders. After getting through the traffic congestion to get to the Pike Place area then finding parking that didn’t cost $6 per hour, I felt committed even when we came upon the queue that came out their door and wrapped around their wall then had a gap to let people through the alley and continued to the street.
Since it was in total a 40-minute wait and one of their staff provided us with their menu, I knew what I wanted to order as I approached the counter. Oh, I did try “Seattle favorite” Smoked Salmon Chowder and much prefer smoked salmon and cream cheese flavours in solid form on a bagel. My four picks were New England Clam Chowder (which NPY enjoyed the best), Crab & Oyster Chowder, Seafood Bisque (bursting with flavour, we saved this for last) and Seared Scallop Chowder (which was my favourite with so much lemon and dilly flavour). We only had our meter for one hour so left the area as soon as we got the goods and enjoyed it at one of tables in the atrium of Bellevue Square!