A huge thank you to all the Portland posters! Because of your experiences and posts, I had a great 24-hours in Portland. I hadnt specifically asked what I should do; I just read your informed posts.
I drove from Seattle (where I live) and checked into the downtown Portland Hilton ($45.00 per night thanks to Hotwire.com) around 4:30pm. I quickly changed clothes and went out hoofing it, meandering downtown to my eventual destination -- McMinnemans' Crystal Ballroom.
I will admit to an unfair bias against McMinnemans properties. I generally dont appreciate chains, and I'm not thrilled with the McMinneman's venues in Seattle. The Crystal Ballroom proved my bias kind-of-half-wrong. Its a beautiful venue with lots of preserved charm. It didn't have a "chain-like" ambiance, and I was able to get a couple of semi-decent porters during the event.
I left the event around 11:00pm. I was hungry, but I didnt want to eat at the first place I came to. I headed back to the hotel where I thought, at the very worst, I could order room service.
When I returned to the hotel I asked the valet if there were any nearby restaurants still open and serving food. He pointed me two blocks west to Southpark. Thanks to the posters on this board, this was a restaurant I had considered trying! The valet didnt even need to give me another option!
I sat at the bar and ordered the Oven Roasted Mussels with Linguica, Anisette & Marinara ($9.50) (paired with a 1996 Buzet --Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot & Cabernet Franc -- $7.25). I had needlessly worried whether the anisette would be too dominant. The meal was outstanding, and the flavors were perfectly balanced.
My only complaint was with the mussel shells -- they were thin and extremely prone to breaking. Even though I knew it wasnt the kitchens fault, I still asked about it. Serindipitously, one of Southparks sous chefs was sitting next to me, and he explained they had just changed mussel suppliers. He told me the name of their new supplier, and I was surprised. I personally know this mussel supplier -- Ive been to his house and to his farm. He probably supplies 95% of the mussels to restaurants in Seattle -- and Ive never had a bad mussel or a thin-shelled mussel from him. Are thin shells a measure of "grade?" Does it have to do with growth cycles? Regardless, the mussels were sweet, plump, and perfectly cooked. I was fat and happy as I strode back to my hotel.
I awoke late the next morning (late by my standards -- 8:30am), and I decided to forego breakfast. I had read about all these great breakfast places (Daily Cafe, Zells, Mothers Bistro, etc.), but they all seemed to focus on Sunday brunch. It wasnt Sunday. Besides...I was planning on having lunch at Higgins, and I didnt want to ruin my appetite.
I went to the Pearl District, checked out lots of interior furnishing places, and I looked at a lot of menus. I then wound my way through the streets between the Pearl and NW 21st-23rd.
Again, I wandered around NW 23rd. I bought a Laguiole corkscrew. I looked at more outstanding menus, including those at Wildwood and Paley's Place. I wondered about visiting the Clear Creek Distillery, and I made mental notes to make reservations for at least two of the above places when I return.
It was now lunchtime, and I was ravenous. I thought I was headed back downtown, but I ended up getting "lost" on a winding road seemingly headed to suburbanville. At Skyline Drive-In I pulled over to look at my map and re-orient myself. The Skyline Drive-In looked intriguing, and I was definitely hungry. But I had other plans!
I figured out my driving error, and I headed back down to Higgins.
I read about Higgins on this board. A friend told me I must enjoy a burger there. While eating at Southpark one of the chefs from Alexander's told me that Higgins burgers are good, but the open-faced pastrami sandwiches are even better. I came to Higgins sure I would be having the pastrami. But one of the specials caught my eye. The chef was serving his Charcroute. The server informed me that there would always be burgers and pastrami, but the special was...well...truly special. I ordered a Celebrator (on tap!) and the lunch special.
What arrived was beyond what I had envisioned: one house made pork sausage, one slice of smoked pork tenderloin, and one house made chicken-cream sausage surrounding a mound of house made sauerkraut. I love sauerkraut, but this was made with more care than the average. The chef had used Reisling for the prep, so the saurkraut had a nice, sweet, tender bite, instead of a more acid, sour bite. Four tiny, peeled, boiled, baby white potatoes surrounded the kraut and meat. And then there was the perfectly placed dollop of Dijon mustard. Sublime.
Next came SE Hawthorne. More exploring by foot, and then a massive buying spree at Powells Books for Cooks and Gardeners. Really, I wasnt even going to stop. Except that I didnt even know there was such a store, and I saw it, and I had to stop. And then I had to buy. Really, I dont know how it happened. Wow. Cookbooks.
If youre still with me, heres the greatest thing...I specifically drove WAY down to Taqueria Uruapan (see Jill-Os posts below) to buy some burritos to take home. Folks, this place looks like nothing special from the outside, and I drove by it once before I figured out where I was. But I watched the cook make a carnitas burrito and a pastor burrito. I thought I would hit the road to get them home as soon as possible to share with my loved one. But there was still some unexplored territory.
I wound my way up to the Convention Center and Lloyd Center. My target was Great Wine Buys at NE Broadway and 15th. Again, I walked around the neighborhood. I desperately needed a caffeine/sugar fix, so I had an espresso and an orange-chocolate chip cookie from Peets. I would have preferred to find something better, but this filled the void.
Best Wine Buys is a great neighborhood wine shop. If I lived in the neighborhood the owners would be my friends. Unfortunately, I didnt see anything I wanted that I couldnt find in Seattle. The prices ARE good though. The selection was reasonable too. I liked this shop. Make friends with your local wine merchant.
I walked across the street to Kitchen Kaboodle (or some dopey name like that). Again, I browsed. I had been looking for egg cups all day, but I still didnt find any that were just right. (Note aside: when I got home I discovered that Martha Stewart has egg cups spilling over the cover of her latest issue. I decided that I would no longer look for egg cups until they are no longer a Martha Stewart fad).
By then it was 4:30, and I wondered if it would be the best time to be escaping Portland in the traffic. I drove through the produce warehouses and what seems like it could be the next Pearl district paralleling MLK Way and the river. Lots of good buildings there folks. But you already know that.
Oh gawd. Ive already overindulged, and I have two completely wonderful smelling burritos in the back of my car. What more could I do?
I could drive over to Tugboat to have a beer. Thats what I could do. And I did. I found it (a slightly difficult challenge for out-of-towners), and I enjoyed their ESB at the bar.
And then I left Portland wondering if I should be just a visitor or if its a place where I could live. I really think I would miss seeing all the water that Seattle has, but Portland has a vibrant, thriving culture all its own. And gosh, it was easy to find parking every single place I went.
We're still eating off the burritos from Taqueria Uruapan, and they're absolutely outstanding. Please do try them!
Thank you, thank you.