August 24, 2013 (Saturday, cont’d) – An hour or so after leaving the Red Hills Market, we parked in Portland’s Pearl District and made a quick stop at REI to grab a head lamp (we forgot one at home, and they make camping so much better) and some bear spray for our upcoming time in Glacier National Park and surrounding areas. Fun fact: in Oregon, the speed limit signs omit the word “limit.”
The Pearl District is Portland’s most upscale, nearby downtown and loaded with fine dining, bars and shopping. We walked South and then East to the riverside park for a bit before circling back to the full block of food trucks between 9th and 10th Avenues and Washington and Alder Streets. Portland is famous for food trucks, many organized in pods and seeming a bit more permanent than those in LA which truly move around constantly. There is another cluster we saw at 3rd and Washington and across the river on the Eastside they are everywhere, often found in little parking lots and at times accompanied by live music. Though it was tough, we passed up the panoply of options covering lots of Thai, Indian, Middle Eastern, Fijian, waffles, BBQ, Mexican, Georgian (the country), etc. Instead, I ordered a sandwich at Lardo and brought it to Jenni’s table around the corner at Grassa (same owner). My pork belly with heirloom tomato, arugula and caper mayo on ciabatta was delicious and very reasonable at $8, and Jenni loved her rigatoni with braised pork and an iced tea for $10.
We grabbed our laptops from the car and fit in a little session at Starbucks on 11th and Lovejoy before driving up to Nob Hill and walking around 23rd Street. This is another fairly upscale area with some yuppies and good dining options. Salt & Straw, an ice cream shop, was packed. We left this area and took the Ross Island Bridge to our first-ever airbnb home in Woodstock. The multitude of strip clubs we passed did little to reassure us we had made the right call, nor did our hosts’ admonition to remove all valuables from the car because there are prowlers in the neighborhood. Despite this shaky start, we stayed in a beautiful, brand new home and it was a great experience. Ours was one of the rooms in the finished basement, with an air mattress (the fancy kind that is as high as a low bed) and good WiFi. The half bath was on the main floor and the shower another flight up. Everything worked well, the water pressure was strong and they provided towels and bath products. Brian and Shannon are superb hosts. They are warm and welcoming yet mellow, offering a printed few pages on the house and the area and a wealth of recommendations on request. Brian makes excellent coffee in the morning and even shared some Morimoto Soba Ale and Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar (tastes like candy, in a good way) before our dinner the following night. Which reminds me, Jay and Erin told us about sour beer which evidently is popular in Portland and perhaps elsewhere. It is evident that our hosts love Portland, and they are eager to ensure you will, too.
At 7:15 pm we tried to go to Khun Pic’s Bahn Thai but it was closed today, so instead we ate at Chiang Mai on Hawthorne. It is a small, unassuming place with some sidewalk seats and prompt service. Jenni enjoyed her shrimp pad thai and I my yum jeen gai. There are Thai restaurants everywhere in Portland, and while tasty this type of ethnic food may not represent the best value in Portland, at least relative to what is on offer in other cities. I can get better Thai food at the same price in LA, but would be hard pressed to find delicious hand made pasta like Jenni had at Grassa for under $10.
I am struck by how quickly we (in the broad sense) are able to adapt. At first it felt slightly odd to be sleeping in a stranger’s house that is not a proper lodging establishment. The next morning it seemed entirely normal.
August 25, 2013 (Sunday) – Plans to hike Dog Mountain in Washington were quickly abandoned when we slept in a bit and saw the forecast was spotty. It is supposed to be a challenging day hike with glorious views, be sure to get a Northwest Forest Pass for parking if you go. Instead, we zipped over to the Yolk food truck at 48th and Woodstock for breakfast egg sandwiches. I think we are all grown-ups and can agree that huge, calorie-laden sandwiches are interchangeable with strenuous hikes. Jenni got the Sunshine and High Clouds with sautéed spring vegetables, chives, shallots, goat cheese, and saba on an English muffin. I got the Brother Badass with maple glazed pork belly, aged white cheddar, and Dijon tossed greens on a baguette with a little hot sauce. It was excellent. I have been impressed with the bread in Oregon, which most sandwich aficionados will confirm is the most important ingredient. After, we visited the farmer’s market in the Key Bank parking lot at 47th and Woodstock, open part-year 10 am to 2 pm on Sunday. The usual fare was available, including tomatoes, berries, peppers, honey, fish (including Columbia River wild sturgeon), meats, hazelnuts, jams, etc.
We headed East and grabbed the 205 North to the 84 East to exit 17 (Troutdale) for the Historic Columbia River Highway. This is not the quickest path to Multnomah, but perhaps the best compromise of speed and scenery. We caught some nice glimpses of Mount Saint Helens (I believe) to the North as we drove. The waterfalls begin several miles East of Troutdale and we parked beyond at the Wahkeena picnic area and did a loop hike from there over to Multnomah Falls Lodge. It took about 2 hours 15 minutes from trailhead to lodge and then another 10 minutes or so for the half mile back to the car. Our luck with flawless weather ran out as it rained most of the time. This did not detract much as we had raincoats and were hiking through verdant forest with rushing streams and magnificent waterfalls. It occurred to me how spoiled we are in LA; I think the last time I recall hiking in the rain was Peru in August 2009!
Back in the City of Roses we had a late lunch at Little Big Burger on SE Division Street. This is a local mini-chain with $3.75 quarter pound burgers that are diminutive in diameter but fairly thick. A choice of cheddar, swiss, goat or blue cheese is complimentary and I added bacon for $0.50. The burger was tasty though slightly overcooked, and the truffle fries ($2.75) were pretty good. Everything is locally sourced and compostable. Up the road we visited Stumptown Coffee for a strong cup of jo and a chai latte, and next door is the Woodsman Market which crams a lot of delicious looking fare into a small space.
Back at the house we worked a while and then met Samir and Mae at Nostrana at 9 pm. Apparently many Portland restaurants offer late night happy hour menus, so we got Insalata Nostrana, olives, nuts and a margarita pizza with a couple of draught beers for $31 total. The menu offers a lot of delicious sounding options and this place is very well-reviewed, but we kept it simple and cheap. It was great to catch up and we went home after Samir and I bored the ladies to tears with an obviously riveting conversation about Detroit and municipal insolvency.
Brief observations and additional information on Portland: There are semi-permanent food trucks in little parking areas all over the city. Everything is compostable. Major emphasis on locally sourced ingredients…grass-fed beef, antibiotic and GMO free, etc. The Pearl is the upscale/trendy district with more high-end shopping and restaurants. Nob Hill seems to be more yuppy-like. The Eastside has more hipsters and is grittier. There are clusters of bars and restaurants on Hawthorne, Division and Belmont. There are lots of bicycles and dogs. Smoking is more prevalent than in LA. Beer and coffee are religion.
We initially tried to stay at the Portland Hawthorne Hostel but it was full and they recommended the Bluebird Guesthouse, which also was full though it opened up after we had booked airbnb. For inexpensive accommodation, you might try those places. If money is not an issue, you probably ought to stay downtown. We heard the art museum there is quite nice.
Food and beverage joints not mentioned above that were recommended to us include the following: Tasty and Sons; Ken’s Artisan Pizza; Little Bird; Le Pigeon; Bunk; Olympic Provisions; Ava Genes; Toro Bravo; Secret Society (above Toro Bravo) for cocktails; The Ox; Pok Pok (I believe there is a Brooklyn location, too); Porque No (the Hawthorne location was bangin’ when we drove by on Saturday night)
August 26, 2013 (Monday) – Eager to get started on the four hour drive to Walla Walla, breakfast was an apple and Saturday night’s pad thai. It is rather scenic following the Columbia River gorge much of the way. Folks drive pretty slowly in these parts; on the 84 East I was doing 71 in a 65 and passing almost everyone. Fairly quickly the landscape changes from the wet, green scenery of Portland and its environs to barren and rocky, reminiscent of parts of Utah or Wyoming.