Monday, November 10, 2014

Home "Sweet" Home

By many accounts, Portland is one of the great food towns of the era. Inventive chefs, locally sourced ingredients, artisanal and heirloom products in all sorts of categories including chocolate and beer (and especially locally raised produce and wild caught fish and seafood) all add up to some unforgettable experiences at the table. And so on each trip back to town, beside seeking out some great restaurant meals on our own, we have taken the time for both walking tours of the city that specialize in gastronomic businesses, and cooking classes in which to hone our skills for back home.

Amazing seasonal ice cream flavors in large portions make a good (and cheap) dinner plan when you've had a full and tiring day.

The company we have used with great success for our tours is Portland Walking Tours, especially the "Epicurean Excursions." (They also offer wonderful cultural tours, but hey, isn't food the heart of culture?) The excursions take about 3 1/2 to 4 hours while you wander in and out of local cultural icons, through the streets of downtown and the Pearl district, and include tastes, treats, local folklore and a grand introduction to life in the city. Because we had previously done a morning tour with its tea and coffee and bakery emphasis, we wanted to try something in the afternoon where liquor might make an appearance. Unfortunately those slots were sold out way in advance, and we had to "settle" for another morning round. Fate was on our side for this one. When we showed up at the sumptuous library room of the historic Heathman Hotel, our guide, Pat, was waiting for us with the good news that we were on a private tour! Not only didn't we have to vie for position to hear and see, but we had the opportunity to ask all the questions and steer the conversation to wherever we pleased. Pat, a fabulously talented local, had stories of her own to tell, being a performing artist possessed of multiple talents, even to the point of having had a small guest appearance on our favorite Portland based television show, "Grimm"! Best! Day! Ever! (Well, until the next and the get my drift.) And don't you know, we did got to eat pizza and try out a grand tasting tray at a brewpub anyway.

Pat introduces us to the legendary food cart scene with an amazing waffle by Gaufre Gourmet. Go check out this page for a visual menu of their sinfully rich products.

Cheryl across the street from "Cheryl's" where we stopped on the tour and then returned again for a solid breakfast before out 4T Trail outing. (See Adventures in High Places)

Portlanders, in our experience, are contagiously friendly. Our guide and one of "Cheryl's" managers.

Dave and I prepare to "taste" (wolf down) a sample of the Portuguese fried rice, a breakfast menu staple here.
Not to be outdone by the restaurants and tour businesses, our hotel, Kimpton's Portland Monaco, shows how true hospitality works by hosting a wine and hors d'oeuvres hour every afternoon from five to six, made notable in this town by the willingness of strangers to mingle, play games, share a canvas to paint on, and just generally feel like everyone dropped in to say "Hi!" Besides drinking and chatting, I spent some time on a watercolor and ink sketch of the scene, calculated to bring back not the reality of the room, so much as the whimsical feeling of the time.

"Momma" always drinks red, while "Dad" goes for white or beer. One reason we rarely order a bottle of wine in a restaurant. 

Sumptuous decor and a lively atmosphere.

The journal page spread. The "mermaid" lamp was actually shaped like that without the head. Somehow it evolved. The goldfish crackers are there to eat, but they are also the hotel mascot, and available in a live version to keep you company in your room if you request one.
Portland city parks have beautiful old drinking fountains, but unfortunately some are "for the birds". It wasn't a hot day, so we weren't quite sure why this pigeon felt the need to cool his/her brow.
Midweek we started getting serious about the idea of the upcoming retirement relocation, and returned to one of the neighborhoods we had previously looked at, on the edge of the Portland State University campus in SW. We re-toured an apartment previously seen three years ago and did a further check of the neighborhood. We were quite happy to find a food cart "pod" just around the corner, and a wonderful plaza right behind the apartment building to sit and enjoy our takeout lunch.

Relaxing at the university right in the shadow of our possible new home.

Our tour was of an upper level apartment that would give us a grand view of downtown, the Willamette River and Mount Hood/ Mount St. Helens in the near distance.

And here is the view from that bedroom window.

Breakfasts throughout the week continued to be enjoyed in "sugar land." While we don't normally eat donuts and other pastries at home, hey, this was vacation.

Blue Star Donuts

Humor, but I think they wouldn't mind if you take it seriously and share.

Enough donut to last me for a year of donut eating: Blueberry Bourbon Basil

Another favorite bakery in which we donned hairnets and toured the kitchen, Pearl Bakery.

Luckily (for our svelte figures, unluckily for the sheer thrill it might have been,) we would not be around for the Feast Portland event. You gotta love their honesty and hype on the banner: "artisanal everything" "waistline destroyer" "4 day food coma" !
On our last night in town, instead of a having regular restaurant meal, we decided to go "participatory" by signing up for a class in Moroccan flavors in cooking at the local Sur La Table kitchen store. Not only did we have a fun time, gain some useful skills, and eat a great meal, but we actually met a lovely couple who live in the same neighborhood we are thinking of moving to! Small and friendly world, this city.

Dave, who never lifts a knife in the preparation of food at home (except to cut up a banana for cereal) shows some admirable talent with a chef knife and an onion.
And so, a too brief sojourn in "the mighty gastropolis" comes to an end. Did I mention the airport is only fifteen minutes from downtown, and was voted "best in America" by Travel and Leisure Magazine readers? Can a town be too good?

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