My long-time friend Lori and I have established the custom of a yearly jaunt. Last year we went to Washington’s peninsula, where natural beauty abounds, but there is nothing to eat, unless you are adept at fashioning tasty broths from bark and mosses. This year we fled to Portland, where bacon-wrapped, honey-dripped dates spring from the sidewalk cracks. Two hours south of my dowdy little town is a land that flows with tapas and absinthe. And the nature is no slouch either; after the wet winter and recent warmth, the Rose City was busting out in juicy bloom. I believe this will be our perennial destination.
I usually find urban environments overstimulating and intimidating. I resist the urge to walk up to women, all of them, and ask where they got their clothes, and if they can tell me how to get dressed. Poised as I am in the middle of a decade long wardrobe malfunction, I just don’t understand how others navigate, sartorially. I also want to ask them where they are all bustling off to with such purpose and verve. And yet…the city is where the food is. That must be where they are all going!
Upon arrival, we deposited our bags (containing five pairs of shoes per woman) with our Airbnb innkeeper and, at her suggestion, walked to Crisp, on Williams. This establishment is one of the new breed of salad bars. Now, I am content to gaze through a smeared sneeze guard at Round Table Pizza and select from sunflower seeds, garbanzo beans and iceberg lettuce. I will even enjoy doing it, because I maintain that the salad bar is one of the top innovations of the last quarter of the 20th century. But if I am not at my daughter’s soccer team’s pizza party, then I don’t mind classing it up a bit.
Crisp and Garden Bar (I was in Portland more than one day, therefore I needed more than one upscale salad experience) have about seven types of greens, a kaleidoscope of dressings and every raw, roasted, pickled or otherwise messed-with vegetable, legume and seed you can dream up. You can choose from their prefab combinations, or build your own. Or rather, they build it for you.
They slice, dice and toss, then arrange your avocado slices so lovingly atop your mound of salad that you wish these same salad artists would come tuck you into bed each night before sprinkling you with toasted chia. Beets? Got ’em. Lemon Pepper Tempeh? Check. Olive oil poached tuna? Done. Tuck into one of these elephantine bowls of foliage and plan to spend the next forty minutes in concentrated maceration. You will feel healthy and hip.
Once we were fully recovered from lunch, we dinnered at Toro Bravo, a Tapas bar full of chic, but nonthreatening, waitstaff. And let me say this, never have I encountered a city so teeming with polite young people. Whether every restaurant in the city had been warned that critics would be visiting, or they were all fearing lay-offs, I know not. But every person we encountered was unfailingly courteous. I am old-fashioned, and I don’t always expect a young woman with nostril tattoos to give a rat’s ass. But she did! She cheerfully gave a rat’s ass! Thank you Portland.
I don’t remember everything I ate at Toro Bravo, (spicy fresh pasta, salt cod fritters, and some other stuff) but it was great. Okay, I didn’t just seek out comestibles the entire time. We did go to Powell’s City of Books and it’s a darn good thing, because the barista there recommended Nuvrie, where I had the best pastries of my life. I haven’t done a lot of international travel, but I have been to France, where I ate a superlatively good croissant. So when the Powell’s barista, in reply to my inquiries, said that the owner of Nuvrie studied in France, I was out the door before he enunciated the final “s” sound. For all I know, he might have said the guy studied in Frankfurt, Kentucky.
We hoofed it the few blocks to a place that I will probably think about on my deathbed, while my children observe my beautific smile, wishing I would just get on with it so they can inherit my jewelry. Yes, just like when I walked into True Confections in Vancouver B.C., (a story for another time) I felt like Dorothy leaving the drab black and white world behind and stepping into color. I had the banana chocolate walnut croissant, which contained walnut paste; I had not known such a glorious ingredient existed. Correction: I felt like Dorothy if, upon emerging into Technicolor, she had been confronted with a shirtless Gregory Peck, chopping wood.
We bicycled and walked everywhere, relieving the feeling of fullness that so much grazing would seem to engender. I have offered here a mere cheek swab of all we ate.Though I did run while I was there, it otherwise slipped my mind that I was in training for a race, and therefore abstaining from rich food and drinks. Who am I kidding? I say all this, but in my heart, I know who I am. I am the woman who ordered truffle fries from Little Big Burger, after Korean food at Laughing Planet, (after leaving Interurban, [I had to leave because they were out of house made pickles!!]) en route to Ruby Jewel for ice cream. The innkeeper’s dining suggestions were meant to last a tourist about a week, but as I explained to her, I was no ordinary tourist, but a woman with a mere 45 hours to spare, and 363 long days until my next bender in Bridgetown.