Saturday, April 24, 2010

Just another week in PDX (beer, food & shopping for outdoor gear)

The past week has been typical Portland spring weather: overcast, damp and a little chilly. Of course, that didn't stop us from getting out. All you need is a trusty waterproof jacket, comfortable walking shoes, and a few breathable layers and you're good to go.

Last Sunday we went for a walk along Tom McCall Waterfront Park. It was the nicest day of the week -- only partly cloudy and in the 60's. We left our apartment, crossed the railroad tracks via the pedestrian bridge just south of Union Station, and went straight to the waterfront path. We strolled along people & dog watching but almost got sidetracked by the Rogue Brewery tent at the Portland Saturday Market (yes, it was Sunday, but the Saturday market is actually a Saturday AND Sunday market). Rogue was selling a good selection of their draft beers in 16oz plastic cups for about $4.50 each. We got in line, but then noticed the signs limiting alcoholic beverages to within the market area of the park. We didn't want to stop walking, so we sadly had to pass up this great opportunity to drink craft beer.

We walked all the way to Mill Ends Park, the smallest park in the world. It is a 2 ft diameter circle in the traffic median of SW Naito Parkway at SW Taylor Street. After snapping a couple of pictures, we headed west to Pioneer Place, a 3-story mall in the heart of downtown. Greg & I are not big shoppers, but we wanted to buy waterproof safari hats at Eddie Bauer. Mission accomplished, we continued west to the Columbia flagship store. There we tried on waterproof sandals and looked at some other gear, but didn't purchase anything. After a quick look around the Mountain Hardwear store next door, we walked the remaining blocks to the Central Library to pick up a couple of travel books.

We had planned to eat a late lunch while we were out, so we headed to the block of ethnic restaurants on SW Morrison. Some were closed on Sundays, so our choices were fairly limited. We settled on Habibi, a restaurant serving Syrian/Lebanese cuisine. We had a nice leisurely lunch (see Greg's review on Yelp), glad to be off our feet for a little while.

Our final stop was at Whole Foods Market to pick up a few groceries. While their items are generally more expensive than comparable ones at Safeway or Trader Joes, you really can't beat the selection of organic, locally sourced food. Shopping complete, we intended to catch the Portland Streetcar to ride the remaining 12 blocks home, but the next one scheduled was not for another 15-20 minutes, so we decided to walk the rest of the way. We reached the condo, exhausted, but glad we had spent the better part of the day outside.

While looking at status updates on Facebook on Monday, I happened to see one for a Brewers Dinner at Davis Street Tavern. The event was Tuesday, so I quickly mentioned it to Greg to gauge his interest. The food & beer pairings sounded delicious and we had enjoyed a happy hour drink at the tavern a couple of months ago and so were familiar with the restaurant. So I called and got our names on the list.

The dinner was scheduled for 6:30pm on Tuesday and we arrived just a few minutes after that. We were shown to a long dining table in the mezzanine. Only a few other people were there at the time so we settled in and waited for the others to show up. We were quickly joined by Sean McGuire, who works for a local beer distributor (Point Blank), and his wife, Jenny. Soon afterward, Matt Van Zyk, head brewer of Oakshire, had arrived along with a friend of his, DJ. We all introduced ourselves and started enjoying the aperitif, Oakshire Vit, a Belgian style white ale/wheat beer. This is a perfect starter beer, light on the palate with a bit of a champagne finish. Finally the other guests arrived and we received our first course, Oakshire Amber paired with Orange Cinnamon Carnitas, Masa Pancake & Cilantro Serrano Coulis. Davis Street's head chef, Gabriel Kapustka came upstairs to give us an overview of the dishes he had prepared as we started eating. Soon, the beer & food courses were flowing smoothly, served by an attentive staff watched over by bar manager Blake Smith. Every dish was outstanding and really paired nicely with the food Gabriel had chosen. Here's a rundown of everything else we drank & ate:
*Second Course: Watershed IPA with Seared Sea Scallop, Wakame Salad, Spicy Tempura Green Beans & Tobiko Sweet Chili Beurre Fondue
*Third Course: O'Dark 30 with Horseradish Crusted Salmon, Roasted Tomato, English Peas & Mascarpone (and a Spring Ramp)
*Fourth Course: Overcast Espresso Stout with Braised Beef Short Rib, Candied Salsify, Parsnip & Artichoke Salad, Sunchoke Puree, Preserved Lemon & Basil Emulsion
*Dessert: Duck Billed Platypus with Orange Blossom Brioche Donut, Dark Chocolate Fleur De Sel Ganache & Fiorre De Latte Gelato
A few pounds heavier than we arrived, we said our goodbyes and left the restaurant to walk home around 11pm. (I embedded a link to the public photo album on Facebook in the title of this post).

I guess eating all of that good food got me in the mood to cook so Greg & I incorporated a trip to the library on Thursday with a stop at the street carts on SW 10th & Alder for lunch and then more grocery shopping at Whole Foods. We ordered Khao Man Gai (poached chicken with rice) at Nong's and pumpkin curry (we got the veggie version with brown rice, medium spicy) at Sawasdee Thai. Both dishes only cost $6 and were enough food to have the leftovers for lunch on Friday. Greg wrote reviews for both carts on Yelp.

I specifically wanted to go to Whole Foods to get local (Puget Sound) Manila Clams which they had on sale for $4.49/lb. I decided to make clam linguine so also had to buy some fresh parsley, lemon juice and heavy cream. I sauteed organic baby spinach with some minced garlic as the side dish and served everything with Grand Central Bakery's Piccolo Como bread (an Italian-style rustic bread with a crunchy crust and chewy interior). While we were shopping, Greg spotted a 6-pack of Leffe beer so he picked that up to drink with dinner. I opted for a Clos du Bois Chardonnay which I already had at home (although I think a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio probably would have paired better). The meal was delicious!

I had a lot of fresh parsley left over so I needed to think of a way to use it in another dish. My first thought was tabbouleh, a Lebanese salad. I decided to modify the recipe and used quinoa instead of bulgur wheat. I intended to grill lamb chops to go with it, but my nearest grocery, Safeway, didn't have anything besides ground lamb or huge lamb loins, so I opted to make lamb burgers but not serve them on buns. So that was our dinner on Friday night, along with the remaining Piccolo Como and craft beer. Cooking from scratch can require a lot of prep time and clean up, but we really enjoyed these meals.

We got up early today for our first REI Used Gear sale (typically held every 2 months). The warehouse opened at 8am. When we got in line at 7:45, there were at least 300 people in front of us, maybe more. They let in 20 people at a time and would not let more in until at least some of those were checking out. We ended up waiting in line for 2 full hours until it was finally our turn. Although we had on long sleeved shirts and our rain jackets, it was overcast, breezy and less than 50 degrees, so we really were under-dressed and wished we had brought gloves, knit hats, and maybe worn another layer of clothing. Plus there was nowhere to sit so we were standing on a sidewalk the entire time. When we finally got into the building around 10am, it was a bit of a mess. While I have no idea what it looked like at 8am, by 10am everything was strewn everywhere. There was no organization of clothes by men's vs women's and definitely not by size. Ditto for shoes, gloves, outerwear, etc. While outdoor equipment (skis, poles, bike gear, sleeping bags, tents, etc.) was generally in one section, you had to dig through everything and read the tags to find out why it had been returned. With some perseverance, Greg & I both found some good gear. I had thought in advance to bring our large shopping bags, which made it easier to stash things as we browsed.

The ultimate question is: Was it worth it? And our answer is definitely yes as we walked away with some great deals (average price 60% below retail) for only slightly used and sometimes brand new but slightly damaged merchandise that we actually needed & wanted. Would we get there earlier in the future to have a better chance at getting our choice of the best items (things that went fast, like bicycles)? Probably; if there are two of us then we could wait in shifts. However I also know that the ones that were about 100 people in front of us had gotten in line at 6:30am. I'm guessing that the first in line had camped out overnight! I wouldn't go to that extreme unless I felt confident they had something I really wanted that was fairly expensive and thus would represent a savings of hundreds of dollars. But unfortunately there is no way to know what the inventory will consist of as it is strictly comprised of store returns or slightly damaged new items.

It started raining soon after we got home, and we sure were glad to sit down and eat some breakfast and drink some coffee. We'll probably go out for dinner tonight; we just have to decide what we're in the mood for and also make sure the restaurant's menu offers some relatively healthy options. There are so many great places to choose from in our area and others are just a short streetcar ride away.

If the weather is nice as predicted, we're planning to go to the Portland Beavers (minor league baseball) game tomorrow afternoon. I'm sure we'll incorporate some beer drinking into our outing as well.

There you have it, my week of beer drinking, enjoying delicious fresh food, and shopping at my favorite outdoor store, REI. Here's to more of the same next week!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Another three months

It didn't take long for Greg & I to fall in love with Portland, OR. Well, he probably wouldn't characterize it that way, but ultimately we have entered into a long-term relationship with the city. When we arrived on February 1st, it was a cold & rainy afternoon. When we left on March 31st, the temperature and conditions were almost identical. But in the weeks in between, we had many beautiful days of glorious sunny & mild weather, perfect for exploring the city and the neighborhoods that make it so endearing. Oh, and of course, for trying as many of the microbrews as we could possibly consume! After about a month of enjoying our new home base, it was already time to start planning our next "adventure." We looked at a number of different cities, including New Orleans, Washington, DC, Seattle, and San Francisco. I won’t go into all the reasons why we didn’t choose any of those cities, but suffice it to say that it was primarily an issue of availability and “bang for the buck.” Since we would be staying in Portland and were already familiar with the area, we decided to "move" from our apartment near Lloyd Center, primarily because of the noise that seemed to be due to our proximity to the mall and all the fast food restaurants. We didn't mind the sirens too much (there's a fire department a couple of blocks from the apartment), but the loud car mufflers & stereos and people talking on the street at all hours made it a bit unpleasant to have the windows open all the time. While we agreed it would be wonderful to live in one of the residential neighborhoods like Irvington or Laurelhurst, there are mostly houses in those areas, not apartments. Our first choice due to the overall location and proximity to great restaurants, brewpubs, public transportation and green space was a downtown neighborhood called The Pearl. Not very long ago it was still an industrial area occupied by warehouses and rail yards. Since the late 1990's the area has experienced significant urban renewal and is now filled with high rise condos, warehouse-to-loft conversions, art galleries, and trendy bars & restaurants. With the help of Craigslist, we made a few appointments to see some furnished one bedroom condos that were offered for short term rental by the owners. One was on the 18th floor and had a great view of downtown with Mt St Helens, Mt Adams & Mt Hood in the background. But that space was still pretty raw and didn't seem all that comfortable to live in plus there wasn't a gym in the building. We also looked at a unit in a warehouse conversion that was really nice and had great furniture & decor and a large balcony but didn't get much direct sunlight. The place we chose sold us with the floor to ceiling south-facing windows in the living room, balcony with gas grill, and office nook for Greg to work in. With our new living arrangements secured we booked our return plane tickets (13APR-14JUL) and started planning a few side trips. Since Yellowstone National Park has been on both of our top ten lists for awhile, we did some research, made a few phone calls and quickly booked a week long trip via Jackson, WY and the Grand Tetons. We're going in mid May so it will still be a bit cool but there should be lots of baby animals to see. In addition, we booked some shorter overnight trips to Crater Lake and Mt Rainier & Seattle. We also plan to make a day trip to Mt St Helens and maybe go back to Mt Hood (a trip we originally made last August). And, of course, there are always more local activities that we enjoy like the monthly Beer Belly dinners at The East Burn, smelling roses at the International Rose Test Garden, walking along Tom McCall Waterfront Park, etc. As I write this it is a mild & damp day. But I'm sitting by the big living room windows and there's so much light you can hardly tell it's overcast. The only noise from the open windows is the occasional horn of an Amtrak or freight train passing through Union Station nearby. Or the gentle hum of the Streetcar at the corner of 10th & Lovejoy. I can hear Greg typing away on his laptop. It is peaceful, still. All is well.