Getting it Together on the Road: Portland
You may have wondered why I was drunkenly running half-marathons or staying up late texting boys (because they live on the West Coast) and if you did wonder that, you aren’t clued into my life or have too much time wondering what I’m doing. Maybe both. These events culminated in my recent trip to Portland to visit Jake.
Jake, besides being an amazing host as you will find out, is also an amazing writer, so I asked him if he wanted to guest post about Portland – always get an expert’s opinion, right? (Jake actually wrote a piece on Miami for me for the AEO blog last year.) There is so much to share about Portland that I’m splitting it up by Thursday/Friday and Saturday/Sunday because if not, you’d basically be reading War and Peace on your computer (or phone or iPad) screen.
THURSDAY, JUNE 5th (Jake)
Landing In The Woods… Click-bait Is The Worst… Hemingway Was Diabetic and Other Drinking Facts… Obsessing Over Travel (And Food)
After we unloaded Cassie’s illegally large carry on we hit my neighborhood – The Pearl District. The Pearl is a marriage between Pittsburgh’s blue collar charm and Meatpacking’s new trust fund influence. So needless to say I’m a fan.
We hit the streets heading south towards Burnside (which cuts Portland between North and South) and ultimately the first stop: Grassa.
Grassa’s home to some of Portland’s best, traditional pasta. Despite this fact, there have been some truly unfortunately worded articles about this spot:
“Is this nonna’s Italian kitchen through Portland’s casual, handcrafted lens or just an updated Olive Garden for the modern age?”
It’s neither. It does not have to be either, but then again saying that isn’t click-bait material.
I believe our next stop was the most frequented of the trip. The Parish in NW Portland has a special place in my heart as the proprietors “moved-in” a few weeks before I moved to the PNW. We’ve grown and learned the city together all-the-while tossing back Hemingway Daiquiris and the briniest bivalves the West Coast has to offer.
After a few tasty beverages we stopped by Heart Coffee for a little pick me up before dinner.
Something you should know about Cassie and I before we move onto the day’s last course is our mutual obsession of Anthony Bourdain’s ever growing list of television properties. No Reservations, The Layover, Parts Unknown – we’ve cited all of these throughout our talks of traveling, eating, and drinking.
In a more recent episode of CNN’s Parts Unknown Tony travels to Northern Thailand with famed chef Andy Ricker, founder of Portland and New York’s Pok Pok. A wonderfully authentic and equally spicy Thai restaurant nestled deep in Southeast Portland. While I downed cold beverages including drinking vinegar and traded jokes with a former colleague, Cassie took time to survey the menu and make new friends while waiting for items I somehow managed to adequately pronounce.
THURSDAY, JUNE 5th (Cassie)
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Portland. I’ve seen exactly 2.5 episodes of Portlandia and listened to two podcasts with Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein. Recently, they had a bear cub on the loose that brought e coli to the city. I expected a lot of flannel, combat boots and Joy Division cover bands. I really didn’t encounter any of those (except maybe some flannel)and instead found a city that really charmed me over (or maybe it was my host, but we’ll give Portland some credit, too).
I may be biased on my opinion of Portland because I had a wonderful host who shares my taste in most things including pink coconut water and hopefully soon, green juice and kale smoothies (baby steps, right?).
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: never underestimate your intelligence to that of a gate agent. I’m really quick thinking on my feet, especially in travel situations. Basically, nothing is going to get between me and my destination.My plane from Pittsburgh to Houston was delayed because some alert light was on and wasn’t going off. Finally, they decided to switch planes. I had a tight connection and I knew I was now going to miss my flight so I opened the United app to check to see when other flights were going from Houston to Portland that day. There wasn’t another flight until 7 p.m. that night, and it is a four hour flight from Houston, so that wasn’t going to fly (pun intended) for me. I found another flight that would get me in an hour and a half behind my original schedule which was much more appealing than 12 hours behind after a lot of fun time in the Houston airport.
Long story short, I got on the next flight to Denver and from Denver, finally made i to Portland early in the afternoon – and right in time for lunch.
Jake, being an ad man (think Don Draper, including the 5 o’clock shadow), has perfected the boozy lunch. Our first stop was Grassa, a self-proclaimed “pasta palace” in Jake’s neighborhood, The Pearl District.
I know what you’re thinking: “Cassie, you don’t even like Italian food that much. Also you hate gluten. What the hell are you doing?” I’ll answer all three in-kind: “Unless pasta is house made, Italian is usually basic and unauthentic. Grassa pasta is neither. I have decided that when I’m traveling, I’ll eat gluten if it’s not processed. Finally, I’m enjoying the hell out of this pasta.”
Grassa is the only meal of the entire trip I bothered to take a photo of, because sometimes I hate taking photos of my meals and also I typically forget. Jake had sent me a photo of their pasta carbonara a few weeks prior and I had been dreaming about it ever since. So that was essential, along with lobster diablo (because how can you say no to lobster anything?),roasted vegetables (to appease my lack-of-vegetable fear) and of course, a bottle of house wine. I don’t know if it’s because I hadn’t had pasta – or gluten – in probably close to six months or if it was truly this good (betting on truly this good) but the pasta was amazing.Likely better than pasta I have had in Italy.
We took advantage of our carb-loading to pop into a few stores. Portland truly has some great shopping and a lot of artisan-made goods, despite what I expected of the Portland fashion scene. (It still is my goal to end up on the yet-to-be made Portland Sartoralist. I clearly dream big.
Afterwards, we stopped by The Parish, described by Jake as “cajuny and they have oysters”,where I joined the “regulars” club by the end of the weekend. As I am typically an ‘oysters andbubbly’ type of gal, I ventured out of my comfort zone and tried Jake’s go-to cocktail, the Hemingway Daiquiri. Ernest Hemingway was a diabetic (I had no idea!) and created a rum-grapefruit juice-lime cocktail that was sugar free (You had me at sugar free.
As Jake mentions, we are both huge fans of Anthony Bourdain. I was so excited when he told me about Pok Pok, a Thai restaurant in Portland (with an offshoot in NYC). Pok Pok is owned by Andy Ricker, a James Beard winner and recent guest on Parts Unknown: Thailand. Andy goes to Thailand several times a year to learn more about Thai cooking and develop new recipes. Also, have I ever mentioned that Thai food is my favorite food? (Okay, one of them, it’s hard to choose just one.)
We were joined at Pok Pok by one of Jake’s former colleagues and his wife, who are both lovely people. I don’t remember everything we had, but Jake did save me from certain death by mini-shrimp and I tried drinking vinegar, which is a very Andy Ricker-thing.
FRIDAY, JUNE 6th (Jake)
A Donut With A Syringe… It’s Not a Caesar But Your Best Salad Is Great… Buying Penguins In Portland… Losing Ourselves… A Place With Veal On The Menu Appears
Clouds hung over two hungover people in Portland that Friday. It turned out to be a unseasonably (sounds ridiculous) grey weekend. Undeterred, Cassie and I pulled ourselves together, threw on jackets and hit the ground crawling.
First up, we stopped at Portland’s true king of donuts – Blue Star. If you find yourself lost and strung out in Portland do yourself a favor and drop in for some of their fried decadence.
A fitting addition to these puffy clouds of goodness’ caloric content is the delivery method of certain flavors… A syringe. Tie off and settle in (I think I’m ruining your SEO now, Cass) these donuts will cement you in your place for a few moments.
Hangovers in check, we ran down to Tasty’N’Alder for a quick* brunch.
*Any mention of “quick” in these posts refers to Italian quick, which is still an extended period of time.
Tasty is the brainchild of John Gorham. John’s the Chef of Toro Bravo and a forthcoming Mediterranean spot in the Pearl District that has all of Portland salivating. To boil down Tasty is an injustice, but it’s a tapas tour of the world. If I’m not mistaken, Cassie and I ordered eight dishes (including my favorite salad) of increasing deliciousness – we were subsequently defeated by dishes 6, 7, and 8.
Having your tail between your legs is still no excuse to not drop in one of Portland’s lovely houseware/knick-knack/curio stores. My favorite is an airy little space called Canoe, which stocks unnecessarily necessary goods from Japan to Iceland.
The rest of the afternoon is a bit of a blur. I know there was more drinking and oysters at The Parish, trading laughs with Jose and Katie from Jack Spade PDX, and likely a disco nap in preparation for the oncoming meal.
That meal was from DOC. A secret kitchen type space that creates dishes steeped in Italian heritage with Northwest accents. It’s also one of the few places where I’ve come across veal in Portland.
I could jump on my soapbox in defense of veal, but it seems pointless. Veal is delicious. If you don’t like it you don’t have to have it. I elect to have it. I elect to have my tastebuds attend one of the best mouth parties there is.
DOC is much more than veal, however. The wines, Kumamoto oysters, and (my favorite) malted panna cotta with caramel and pecan don’t just steal the show – they take the town the arena’s in.
FRIDAY, JUNE 6th (Cassie)
Despite being promised* better weather than Pittsburgh, we awoke to cold, cloudy weather in Portland while it was in the 70s and sunny at home. (*I may be making this up) Living most of my 25 years in places with awful weather (let’s not even talk about how miserable weather in Hong Kong is as well as the fact I lived in “tornado alley” in Oklahoma) has made me more resilient so we grabbed our umbrellas and hit the town in search of brunch.
We went to Tasty’N’Alder, which had a suspiciously good sign of a long wait for 12:30-ish on a Friday afternoon. The thing I like about Jake is that waiting for a restaurant means finding a snack somewhere else, which in this case, meant donuts.
By this point if you haven’t heard of Voodoo Donuts in Portland (and now in Denver), you’ve been living under a rock. Voodoo Donuts, according to Jake, is awful, so we went to Blue Star. You know that funny social media sign about each platform as it pertains to donuts? That’s where it’s from. You can actually see them making the dough in house (which is a brioche recipe from the South of France #fancy). I can’t remember exactly what donuts they had that day but do remember blueberry bourbon basil, maple bacon, passion fruit and cacao nib and our donut of choice, the Cointreau cream brûlée.
Inserted in the middle of the donut is a little dropped filled with Cointreau which you can either use as a glaze (which is what we did), insert in the middle or just ignore (if you’re boring). I’m really not a huge donut person (as in I love eating them but I never crave them or order them on my own) but this donut was HEAVENLY. Also, creme brûlée is my all-time favorite dessert.
I am also going to admit here that brunch/lunch/the afternoon may have gotten a little
boozy hazy. We ordered entirely too much food at Tasty’N’Alder including a delicious Bloody Mary with sriracha and ginger, radicchio salad (“what’s your worst-selling salad?”), Sicilian hash (duh, you’re with two Sicilians), grilled asparagus, gaucho ribeye, and I literally can’t remember what else, but a lot.
Jake and I then popped into
my summer of 2008 spent in Italy drinking too much wine and eating daily tomato and mozzarella paninis with Carly his favorite Italian market for capiccola and wine because he wasn’t done fattening me up yet.
After meeting we walked around and popped into a few more shops we got real Italian and took a disco nap* before dinner.
(*Disco nap is a term coined by me for when you take a 20-30 minute nap after day drinking/being exhausted to get ready to go out again.)
Jake had made reservations at DOC, which in a word was amazing. You walk in and you literally walk through the kitchen, which is probably a total of 16 square feet at the front, to the tables which look forward into the kitchen. They take the “secret kitchen” concept to the extreme and do a 6-course chef’s tasting menu. Everything is locally sourced and on this particular night there were Kumamoto oysters, asparagus risotto, veal scallopini, king salmon, an amazing cheese plate and a to-die-for panna cotta, to name a sample of the dishes we had.
Stay tuned for part two!
Chat with me:
Did you seriously just read this whole post? I owe you one if you did. Have you ever been to Portland? Where else do you recommend there?