Sunday, December 25, 2016

Portland 2016 Day 1: Eat ALL the things

Portland 2016 Day 1: Eat ALL the things

As a fun adventure weekend away post-wedding, and pre-honeymoon, Michal and I took off to Portland, Oregon for an action-packed 2 full-days. We found a better price on flights leaving on a Saturday and coming back on a Monday, so since we're crazy, we left early morning Saturday and came back SUPER early (up at 4am!) Monday morning.

We arrived in Portland to some grey weather, but that soon changed. I was struck at first at how London-y the layout way, with so many bridges connecting one side to another.

We arrived at our hotel, the very hip "The Vintage, Portland". They had a fun bar in the front of the hotel, along with a spiral staircase, some pool tables, bikes you could rent, and some hip multi-tattooed staff (obv, this is Portland). We checked in our stuff and headed off to go explore.

We were intentionally staying right downtown to ensure to maximize our time there for our first Portland visit. There seems to be a LOT of awesome stuff all concentrated into the downtown core (though many Portland natives seem to say the south-east is the best spot to go/live in/visit at the moment). Nonetheless, for a first-timer, it was great to stay in the midst of everything and get to try and experience all that Portland has to offer.

Fun toy store that has the same vintage E.T. that Norm has!!
Famous Powell's Books
Matt Groening, creator of my favourite show in the known universe, grew up in Portland. So there are some very obvious and amazing things he was inspired by for names in the show. For instance Mr. Burns's name comes from "Burnside St". There is also a 742 S.W. Evergreen Terrace (the house Matt Groening grew up in), Northeast Flanders Street, Southwest Terwilliger Boulevard, Northwest Quimby Street, Northwest Kearney Street, North Van Houten Avenue, Montgomery Park and Burnside Street and Northwest Lovejoy Street. Incredible!!!
Also: I love this huge Doc Martens boot outside the shop.

Next on my to-visit list was a Portland-creators shop called "MadeHere PDX". It seemed like a really cool place where you could get really creative foods and clothing made by local Portland artists. Like a farmer's market, but in a shop :) Really interesting and fun stuff here. Apparently they are really into nut butters in Portland?!

The sun started to come out and we headed to the Portland Farmer's Market at Portland State University. There are several of these Farmer's Markets in Portland but several folks had told us that the one at PSU was the best. So we headed there as the sun started to shine and it was a glorious place of awesome, as farmer's markets always are.

This was some supppper weird and creative and strange "tea liquor" -- made from fermented tea, I think? I said, "Oh, so it's sortof like an alcoholic Kombucha?" She was like, "Uh... no." Haha. I tried it, and it was both weird and good.
The one thing that struck me at first was HOW INSANELY GOOD the Apples are in Portland. Man!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I guess Washington and Oregon are pretty darn famous for apples, but we really could tell the difference here. It was pretty astounding. Like, best apple of your life. This was the crunchiest bastard of all time, and I was pretty darn psyched. After our first Portland apple experience at the market, we aimed to try as many different varieties of apples over the rest of the trip. EPIC. SERIOUSLY EPIC APPLES. Man.

Anyway! Moving on... the market was awesome, and I tried some "Marrionberry Jam" which was also kindof earth-shattering. But returning to apples for a moment....

Imagine a buttery, warm, spongy, perfectly created southern-style biscuit. Now imagine those aforementioned Portland apples turned into a painfully tasty apple butter. Smush those two ideas together and you have Pine State Biscuits with Apple Butter on them. Then, charge us a measly $3 (?!) for this honour, and you've got the best lunch of all recorded human history. This was SERIOUSLY GOOD. So good I NEED TO CAPITALIZE THIS SENTENCE.


We continued our wandering to some funny shops and I had to try on the most Portland-y hat of all time:

Food trucks are insanely popular in Portland (in fact, the food truck revolution may have started here, I believe). There were "food truck cities", entire blocks consisting of an entire ring of food trucks, covering all different kinds of cuisines. Pretty cool.

Next stop on our action-packed list was Kenny & Zuke's, a Jewish deli that came highly recommended. It was already 1pm and I hadn't even had my first Kombucha yet (actually, wait a sec, I *did* try some weird Kombucha flavours -- including "coffee" -- at the market)! Anyway it was time for some proper lunch, and the bagels here were great. Mix that with some tasty Kombucha and some latkes, pastrami and eggs (they call this the "222"), this made for a super tasty lunch.

One thing we have already noticed is that Portlandians are very friendly -- like Canadian-style friendly. Several people have already started telling us their life stories by now, and the dude at Stumptown was so concerned I had waited more than 5 minutes for my individually-created pourover coffee that he gave me a coupon so that my next coffee would be free. The servers at Kenny & Zuke's were no exception -- the girl welcoming us in her high-waisted jeans literally called herself out, saying how much of a cliche she was ("Oh, yeah, I'm just the girl with multiple piercings wearing high-wasted jeans and serving people Brunch".) We laughed when the Portlandia TV show theme song came on their overhead radio and she was like, "Oh, yeah..." and said the name of the song and band name as if we would know it. Hilarious. I laughed hard when I saw the guy who would be our server, in full hipster lumberjack regalia, a big beard, suspenders and flannel and wearing a toque inside. I told our self-aware greeter that he seemed like the platonic ideal of someone from Portland. She said, "Oh yeah, he's the best, and you know what -- he's gonna be your server!" What a funny, funny place this is.

Their menu had a delightful and awesomely old-school request in huge font on the front page: "Please, no cell phones at dinner. Mute your ringer at other times & respect the peace of other diners. Thank you!" Very nice!

Perhaps most importantly, this place was friggin' approved by friggin' Matt Groening, with a damn Matt Groening DRAWING on the DAMN front of the building?!?!??!?!? I almost walked by this. When Michal pointed it out, I almost melted down in over-excitement. Truly legendary.
As I mentioned, it was the early afternoon and there were still major Portland landmarks (like the Kombucha earlier) that I needed to experience, and asap. Fortunately, there was a glorious Stumptown Coffee immediately beside Kenny & Zuke's, so that worked out well.

Stumptown is GREAT, and is credited with starting this current wave of coffee obsession that we know and hold dear here in San Francisco, too. Apparently a few years ago, they took on some funding from a larger company, and now sell some pre-mixed cold brew in stores, etc. Portland seems to be fiercely independent, so I think that's sortof looked down upon in the cool circles, but Stumptown in Portland was still busy and vibrant and as obsessive about measuring weight of beans and water-to-bean-ratio as you might hope from a coffee-obsessive hipstery spot. Love it. And no doubt I've just offended someone from Portland who is reading this and saying, "How DARE he call Stumptown 'hipstery'!" Oh well. Anyway, I love that place. The "Blue Bottle of Portland", or perhaps more rightly so, Blue Bottle is more likely the "Stumptown of San Francisco".

The awesome food exploration continued with a visit to the famed Blue Star Donuts. When you think of Portland, you probably think of Voodoo Doughnuts (more on that later), but Blue Star is generally known to be better and "less crazy" than Voodoo. That said, their flavours were still absolutely stellar (get it?) :)

I, very predictably, went for the Passion Fruit and Cacao Nib one. The dough was very 'hefty' -- I learned after that this is by design, the dough is a brioche-based dough and it was very unexpected, not cakey, and more like a beignet than a doughtnut. That at first threw me off for a moment, but it was very tasty. The topping was very tangy and truly awesome.

Next up, was Clyde Common in the Ace Hotel. We had heard good things about its Happy Hour and snacks, so we went to check it out. Unfortunately it seemed that day that the best things on the menu were either Pork-y or Shellfish-y, but we still found a couple things to eat. Surprisingly, it was only *ok*. It probably had something to do with us eating constantly since the morning, perhaps :) I think after that Pine State Biscuit with Apple Butter in the morning, all the rest of the food of the day was going to be pretty low on the totem pole comparatively. Nonetheless, we enjoyed ourselves and the eating and schlepping and waking up at 5am was starting to hit us. I just ordered a basic cocktail, but afterward regretted not ordering something from their fancier barrel-aged menu -- I remembered only afterwards that this is what people said they were most famous for.

After this, we headed over to the LEGENDARY Multnomah Whisky Library to put my name down on the list. The reputation of this place proceeded it, and as Paste magazine's article entitled "This Might Be The Greatest Whiskey Bar In The World", says, "More than 1,200 bottles grace the walls of the bar, which is staffed by some of the smartest whiskey geeks in the city." Um... that's a strong YUP.

The wait was an expected 2 hours, so we said "perfect!" and headed back to our hotel with them planning to text me 15 min before the spot opened up. After much walking and eating all day, it was nigh time for a nap, so we took a great hour and a half nap and got up in time to head back to the Whisky Library. YES.

Getting inside and looking in awe at the bottles all along the walls was quite a treat. A true whisky nerd's paradise, I was immediately flipping out. (See below)

This place was soooooooooo awesome, soooo leather-seated, soooo fancy and baller and whisky obsessive all at once. Incredible. We sat down (myself, and my infinitely patient wife who is not into whisky), and spent 2.5 hours there. Ha! We got a few snacks and I spent a good 20 minutes looking through the many, many, MANY pages of the Whisky menu. We lucked out, as we ended up getting the manager there as our server as they were understaffed. He spent significant time with me discussing all the different options, and I settled in on exactly what I suspected I wanted to try, desperately, one of the old-label Glenmorangie choices. They had both the Maderia cask finish, and the "Port Wood" finish (a sort-of precursor to the Quinta Ruban). He strongly suggested I go with the Port Wood choice instead, so I did, and it was FANTASTIC. I have never nursed a whisky so long, I think it took me about an hour to finish the small glass. Truly AWESOME and as a massive Glenmorangie fan, it was a really huge treat and experience (a chavaya, in Hebrew!) to get an opportunity to try one of these old "out of print" editions. The manager said that it was funny that this was just "their old 12 year old" whisky, a bottle now like the Quinta Ruban that costs like $50. But given the age of this distilling (not sure when it was bottled, but must have been a while back given the graphics on this label, probably in the '90s), it is quite rare at this point. I didn't see any of these at the Glenmorangie distillery when Matt and I visited a few years back, otherwise I would have bought one for certain.

Tasting Notes from the Master of Malt website: "A very relaxed port wood finished Glenmorangie. This is an earlier bottling than the distillery's current port wood finished expression, Quinta Ruban, and it's really quite different."  

Nose: Lots of fruit - dark cherries, prunes, dates. A slight earthiness from the port perhaps. A pleasant malty sweetness.
Palate: Smooth and sweet. The brighter notes normally found in Glenmorangie are definitely subdued, but it's very nice.
Finish: It's in no hurry as it eases itself off your tongue with more soft, dried fruit sweetness.
Overall: A very relaxing whisky, markedly different to the more modern Quinta Ruban.

So, YEAH, that was totally awesome.

I was on top of the moon after that experience and really, really, really excited. We cooled off with a walk to Powell's Books and spent some time there, before heading to the food truck area to try something from one of the famed food trucks -- in this case, a Gyro.

For some reason, we were not absolutely stuffed at this point and STILL went to Voodoo Doughnuts. I have no idea how we did it. But, alas, we did.

We took a walk through downtown towards the original Voodoo Doughnuts location, to stand in ling with a huge crowd at 10:30 at night, and picked up a few of the odd options -- Portland Cream, Mango Tango (mango jelly, and topped with tang), and the Dirt Doughnut (with Oreos on top). Particularly awesome was the drawing of "hippy" Homer Simpson above the "Homer Doughnut", based on the design of the doughnut that Homer always loved in The Simpsons.

Craaazyy decor

"The Homer"!!
Also grabbed some Quin candies earlier in the evening.
These Tea + Lemonade gumdrops were pretty stellar.
Earl Grey caramel?!?!? Yes.

Our crazy doughnuts!

Oof. So after that amazing day of pure-constant eating, we slept very well.

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