Sunday, October 28, 2007

Portland for Labor Day 2007

Some day, we'll post these blogs in near-real time, or at least shortly after they happen. Some day, we'll also all have flying cars and robot servants, and eat all our meals in pill form. Until then, expect delayed gratification.

Labor Day weekend is our wedding anniversary (4 years now!!) , so we try to make it a point to go somewhere fun, romantic, or both, even if it's just for a day or two. This year we briefly considered Kabul or Detroit, for obvious reasons, but ultimately picked Portland, Oregon, mostly because as Washington residents we can't resist anywhere that gets confused with eponymous East Coast locations.

We left Seattle on Friday afternoon for the drive down. Because of holiday-weekend traffic, we didn't arrive in Portland until fairly late in the evening. We quickly checked into our hotel, the Vintage Plaza (which I highly recommend, in part because of its great location), changed clothes, and headed over to Clyde Common for dinner.

Clyde Common takes the "common" part of its name from the fact that the primary seating is a large, shared table, in a relatively small (but spacious and high-ceilinged) room with an open, prominent kitchen. We had time for a starter cocktail at the standing-room-only bar before getting seated.

Off to one side of us, stretched around the corner of the table, was a small group that seemed to get at least one of every single item
on the menu. Good for us, because we got to scope out how things looked. We talked to them briefly and it turned out that the boyfriend of the woman next to me was the chef, so they were being treated very well! I can't actually recall what we ended up eating, but the meal was quite tasty and very reasonably priced. We stopped at the bar again on the way out, but in all honesty the drinks weren't anything special (in contrast to the food).

Afterwards, we wanted to hit one of the new local cocktail bars
before heading back to the hotel. Fortunately, Teardrop Lounge was only a few blocks away, and in my opinion is not to be missed. Only having been open six weeks at the time, they have a great space and a fantastic bar program, and Daniel (one of the co-owners/managers) chatted us up all night. Everyone that works there is very enthusiastic. They make a lot of their own syrups, bitters ( e.g. cherry-vanilla), etc., including their own tonic water, which is the best I've had, even beating that at Eastern Standard.

One of the patrons at Teardrop that night owned the local pedicab business, which was great for us because Wendy was wearing her brand-new "save the elephant" shoes [long story], and there was just no way she could walk back in those! Before long a friendly cabby stopped by to pedal us back to the hotel, where we collapsed in exhaustion.

After sleeping in for a bit on Saturday morning, it was off to Stumptown for coffee and pastries for breakfast. I would easily rank Stumptown as one of the best gourmet coffees I've had, on par with Seattle's Café Vita, Lighthouse, and Umbria. We also strongly support local businesses anywhere we go (and I'm thrilled to have since seen a Stumptown going in next to Café Presse). But... Maybe it was just a bad morning. Maybe the über-cool science-fiction-like espresso machines they use (custom made for them, according to the small amount of info I could pry out of the barrista) were acting up. Maybe the staff was new. Not sure. In any case, it was perhaps the slowest service we've had in a long time, and it was just a walk-up counter. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, but I really hope our next experience there is a little more efficient.

After we were comfortably caffeinated, we walked around to do some shopping. One of our stops was at Portland's Cacao, a
fantastic store with some of the world's best chocolate available. We ended up with a whole range of little treats for ourselves, including...wait for it...a bacon and chocolate bar!!! Yes, you read that right!!

For lunch, we ventured north across the Columbia to go to a fun little place called Pambiche for Cuban food. Pambiche, named after the maybe-inevitable corruption of "Palm Beach" that reflects a certain attitude and style, was both excellent and quirky. Blessed with some great weather, we got to eat out on the sunny sidewalk, which is always a treat. We're going to have to get back when we have room for dessert!

After an afternoon of shopping, we got ready to go to dinner. Loving all things Tiki, I couldn't let us leave Portland without going to Thatch. Tucked into a seemingly-quiet neighborhood, Thatch was a fun way to take ourselves to the tropics for a short time. As with all tiki bars, it's perpetually a tropical night inside; though not quite windowless, it was easy to forget that it was still late afternoon!

We headed off to dinner, but stopped first at a place called Doug Fir, a converted no-tell motel which I can only describe "hipster retro hunting lodge". Strange place, and the bartenders, besides being impressively tattooed, were also full of attitude [Example- Wendy: "Any drink you'd particularly recommend right now?" Them: "Makers, rocks". Ha ha, never heard that before]. To top it off, the drinks sucked. Don't think we'll ever go back; YMMV. Supposed to be a good music venue though, so who knows?

We walked the couple of blocks to LePigeon for dinner. Wow, that was a fantastic restaurant. Tiny though; we only got reservations because someone canceled. We sat up at the bar; the entire room was maybe 25' x 30', at the most, and the kitchen protruded into the center of the room. Chef Gabriel Rucker (also impressively tattooed) and his sous were front-and-center, running an understated operation, and turning out stellar French-ish cuisine

Hearing that suckling pig brains had been added to the sauce of our suckling pig -- waste nothing!!! -- was strangely not disturbing to me...

Maybe the best thing we had -- certainly the only thing I had to fight Wendy to get a taste of -- was the foie gras ice cream in profiteroles with salted caramel sauce. Yummm.

Being totally full and exhausted by this point, we cabbed "home" to the hotel, with Sunday ahead of us.

We'd decided not to stay for the full long weekend, mostly to avoid the otherwise-inevitable return traffic to Seattle. So Sunday was a half-day, with a lot to pack in. We started with walking down to the Saturday Market (yes, I know it was Sunday...), Portland's weekly arts, crafts, and food fair. Completely lucked out on continued good weather, but didn't really see anything that needed purchase.

I'd previously arranged for a tour of House Spirits. Co-owner Lee Medoff met us at the unpretentious warehouse on Sunday morning to show us around. Wow, that was fun. We tried their gin, vodka, aquavit, early versions of their rum and whiskey, and as a special treat, a one-of f (and good but not entirely successful) experiment in absinthe. Lee was an excellent guide and I look forward to continue being a customer ;)

And then it was a quick lunch at a local BBQ joint, and hitting the road back to Seattle. A great weekend!

The full set of pictures can be found here.

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