Sunday, May 30, 2010

Portland, Oregon Index (May 2010)

Portland details

As usual, I flew Delta direct from Minneapolis. Although my frequent flier status yielded me a window seat in a substandard row (noticeably less pitch than other rows – I was in a middle seat and made this change at the airport, so couldn’t consult SeatGuru, but it still was better than a middle seat). I hadn’t thought about Tuesday being the start of a holiday weekend (ok, let’s be honest, I had been so busy at work I really hadn’t thought about there being a holiday weekend ahead at all) and so was surprised by a packed flight filled with children. Some of the children spent the flight screaming. The one seated behind me preferred to grab the top of the seat back (usually grabbing some of my hair in the process) and jump around. . .

I did better on the way back, where we actually knew before check-in that we had scored upgrades (not together, since the tickets hadn’t been booked together, but I was able to fix that), so the trip home was oh-so relaxing. (Thank you, Delta.)

Portland is a foodie’s dream of a city, where even the street-side food carts are often amazing.

Despite that (and the list of awesome places to dine provided by colleagues) we ended up eating at only a few different places. Maybe it was just laziness or maybe it was just that there were so many good things on those menu it seemed silly to venture anywhere else.

I came here with the goal of eating at Andina, a Nuevo-Peruvian place in the Pearl that I remembered fondly from my previous trip.

We had lunch here twice and I would happily go back again. Order the diver scallops in butter sauce and crispy onions. We had it both times and I would have gladly returned for a third serving.

We also ended up at VQ twice.
This wasn’t on the restaurant list my colleagues had provided, but Lane had seen somewhere that it was supposed to be good and, of course, he found the name – Veritable Quandary – irresistible. The food was equally irresistible and (as at Andina) we ended up ordering our favorite dish (asparagus with radishes in pistachio butter) both times. (It was a dish to die for.)

Some of their most famous dishes didn’t work for us, but we enjoyed both meals (eaten in the bar, since you can’t get in here without a reservation) and the cheese platter was amazing – a meal in and of itself. (By the way, I am now a fan of blue cheese. I think this means I am finally an adult.) So the food is good or better than good, the atmosphere warm and welcoming (especially on a cold rainy night), and the website boasts “We proudly serve only local unpasteurized eggs, including uncooked eggs in some items” – hey, what’s not to like?

Because I had enjoyed my lunch so much, I had intended to take Lane to Carafe Parisian Bistro for dinner. We never made it. Instead we ended up having lunch at Fenouil.

Our meal was lovely, but the dessert! Lane chose the white chocolate filled beignets with passion fruit caramel sauce. I was skeptical – chocolate-filled donuts just didn’t sound very tempting. I was so wrong. I didn’t actually know it was possible to bake anything so light and fluffy, they were like warm little clouds with a bit of sweet, rich goo inside. They melted the moment you bit into them. . . . add the sauce and it was a dessert to die for.

As it turned out, the hotel restaurant had a lot to offer too. I’d ordered room service pizza (a lovely bay shrimp and pesto concoction with a wonderful cheese of some sort) the first night (to eat while I worked on a presentation) and dinner in Nel Centro itself the last night of our trip made us wonder why we had ever ventured out in the rain looking for food. We had plenty of wonderful options available without ever leaving the building. Who would have guessed it?

If only we had another week of eating here!

See and Do
We faced two disadvantages during our visit – the Rose Festival and the holiday weekend meant there were places I’d rather avoid, like the rose gardens and wine country. Add clouds and rain to that and, well, lets just say we spent more time being lazy than usual for us.

Portland is a city of gardens and wine country is nearby, as it the Columbia River Gorge. But honestly, this is such a wonderful city for exploring on foot that it seems silly to leave town.

For background on Portland’s history, check the blog Vintage Portland.

A Few Thoughts on what may be America’s Most-Walkable City

Previous post: An Abundance of Fountains

Portland really may be the most walkable American city I’ve been in – the only competition that springs to mind is the French Quarter of New Orleans, but that is such a small area in comparison.

Portland's short blocks (generally 200 feet in length) help. So does the fact that Portland is actually being designed and managed to specifically accommodate pedestrians. A green streetscape (much stormwater management starts with lush streetside plantings that capture and filter run-off) and an interesting architectural mix, combined with a traffic management philosophy that favors pedestrians first (followed by bikes, transit, and finally cars) make Portland a walker’s dream.

When one gets tired of walking or wants to avoid the rain, transit lines are plentiful, convenient, and easy to use.

Next post: Portland Details

An Abundance of Fountains

Previous post: Portland’s Architectural Mish-Mash

Portland is known as the city of roses, but it could as easily be the city of fountains.

I just wandered about running into them randomly throughout the city, but walking tours will take you past all of them, should you feel the need. While I tend toward to gravitate toward the more modern, the city also hosts a number of more “classic” fountains from bye-gone eras, including the “Elk” with its spouting bears and wildcats.

If you want to see more, the blog “Fountains of Portland” seems to have all the pictures of Portland’s fountains one could ever want.

Portland’s Architectural Mish-Mash

Previous post: Waiting for the Train (Dance Competition)

One of the things I love about Portland is that design seems to matter here in a way it doesn’t at home. Not design in the sense of uniformity, but a willingness to take risks – even when the risks don’t work. (It happens. Portland has more than its share of bad buildings, but that is the price they pay for a varied and interesting urban fabric. You have to take some bad along with the good.) In the end you have an amazing mishmash of structures of all vintages and styles. . . with lots of greenery mixed in for good measure.

And, as if that weren’t enough to engage one’s attention, there always seems to be at least one glass curtain building around to provide a warped view of everything around it.

The streetscape is never dull.