Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Travelin' Oenophile: Part 2, Port_________

Spotty posting due to lack of free hotel internets. Yes, it’s quite annoying. At least when I’m back in Seattle, I can count it as a business expense.

I’d left off at Saturday morning, when we left Seattle for Portland. The drivers here in the Northwest bewilder me. Hubby says it’s because I have an inner Yankee who comes out when I get behind the wheel of the car. I think it’s because I’m used to driving in Atlanta, where the object is to get off the road as quickly as possible. But seriously, they drive the speed limit, or close to it. WTH? You'd think these people have never encountered coffee or the urgent need to "get a haircut," as the Car Talk guys say, as a result.

Due to a chaotic (the guy behind the desk described it as “disastrous”) scene at the car rental place, we were a little late getting to Portland, but still in time to meet the Smart Couple at Ringler’s for lunch. Ringler’s Pub is part of the McMenamin’s beer empire and could probably be described as “divey.” Yep, it was burger and beer time, at least for Hubby. I stuck with a burger and strawberry lemonade, which had real crushed strawberries in it, because if I start drinking too early and then don’t continue, I get grumpy. I had the “Dungeon Burger,” which has sautéed mushrooms and melted Swiss on top of it. He had the “Communication Failure,” which is topped with sautéed bell peppers and onions as well as cheddar cheese. Both came with fries and were really good. Hubby enjoyed his wheat beer, which he described as tasting “like toast.” This has been a theme for the wheat beers up here.

After lunch, Smart Female convinced me – yeah, it was tough – to accompany her to her favorite chocolate store and café, Cacao. The Smart Couple had the cinnamon drinking chocolate, and I opted for a less, though not by much, heavy dark hot chocolate. Hubby abstained since his mission for the afternoon was more beer. The dark hot chocolate was intense and creamy and perfect even without whipped cream.

A bit of background… I met the Smart Couple through an email list-serv that has nothing to do with food and wine, although the foodies on the list do sometimes wax eloquent on those topics. This couple moderates the list, and we met and became friends with them on our previous trip to this part of the country.

They know many many things about subjects I don’t know much about, so I took the opportunity to drag them (ha!) kicking and screaming to Powell’s, the world’s largest independent bookstore. It covers an entire city block and has books on every subject imaginable. One of the things that I most enjoy about it is that it has the used books shelved right with the new ones, so it’s easy to find good deals even beyond their usual mark-down.

We had originally planned to go to Caprial’s Bistro for dinner, but a little Portland thing changed that. Hubby got a room through Priceline at the elegant Benson Hotel, which was right along the route for the Starlight Parade, the kickoff event for the annual Rose Festival. They pretty much told us not to plan to come or go by car anywhere between 7:00 p.m. and midnight, so that killed the plan to go to Southwest Portland for dinner.

Instead, we ended up at Park Kitchen, which happened to be on one of the parks used as a staging area for the parade. Portland’s motto is “Keep Portland Weird,” and I am happy to report that they are doing a fantastic job of it. Between marching bands, a drum corps drilling without drums, people running through in togas, and crazy floats, it was a show even before the parade started. I felt sorry for the director for the band lining up by us who kept reminding the students to look at him, a difficult task when people are streaking by in togas (alas, no real streakers).

Oh, right, dinner… We decided to do the “Small Plate Tasting Menu,” which for a set price, gave us most of the small plates on the menu plus a couple that the chef made up plus dessert. We were astounded at the amount of food that just kept coming out of the kitchen! All of it was really good.

On Sunday morning, Hubby and I went to Ken’s Artisan Bakery for breakfast, where I continued my search for the perfect ham and cheese croissant, and Hubby had a slice of veggie quiche. Then we killed time before church in the International Rose Test Gardens, which are part of Washington Park and overlook the city. Some of the roses were only just budding, but most of them were in bloom, and there were every different color imaginable, even some “black” ones. I think Hubby was disturbed by my idea to put one of the black rosebushes in the back bed.

Sunday brunch was with Hubby’s great uncle and family at Shenanigans, the restaurant at the Red Lion at Jantzen Beach. The food was good with many different choices from omelettes to sushi, and the view of the Columbia River is spectacular. All of that paled in comparison to the company.

I took it easy on the champagne because I knew we’d have to say goodbye to delightfully weird Portland and head out to Port Angeles to catch the ferry to Victoria on Monday morning. The drive took us along the water and through the hills and, I think, a couple of different dimensions because although it was only about three and a half hours, it felt like forever. We arrived at twilight (the time of day, not the movie, which was, apparently, filmed there) to a chill and the smell of wood smoke in the air, which only heightened the odd feeling that we’d left summer and found fall again. Dinner was at a mediocre restaurant that doesn’t bear mention, and then it was off to bed.

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