Detour: A Girls’ Weekend in Portland

by Angela on September 4, 2012 · 13 comments

Tell me, friends: what’s the best destination for a God-I-need-a-break-from-touring mommy, to celebrate the bachelorette-hood of her college best friend?

Miami. Vegas. New Orleans. Atlantic City. Portland. Duh!

This was our magnificent view of Mount Hood from Portland’s Council Crest Park.

Since my bestie Anita wanted a “chill, nature-filled foodie retreat” and our other best friend Alicia already lived in the Rose City, we made the trek to the Pacific Northwest with a few other girlfriends for a long weekend.

Here we are at Domaine Drouhin, a winery in the Willamette Valley. From left to right: Angela, Erika, Anita, Sheela, and Jen.

(Little did I know that Anita chose Portland partly because it was a backdrop in Fifty Shades of Grey! And she wanted to go to all the various landmarks that the tortured young billionaire Christian Grey frequented! Did I mention Anita still watches General Hospital religiously, though she is currently in school for her PhD?)

Sheela and Anita are so excited to spot Christian Grey inside the Heathman Hotel.

I wanted to do like Portlanders do, so I packed my post-consumer recycled wallet (held together with duct tape), dug up Mike’s old black-rimmed glasses, and relied on my grey Toms to go with every outfit, whatever the occasion. I just hoped we wouldn’t be biking everywhere. Bad neck, you know.

Bikes of all kinds, including rugged mountain and vintage types, permeate the streets of Portland. Here they are parked outside a food truck courtyard in the Hawthorne neighborhood of SE Portland.

The Insta-Home Challenge: Portland

I found a great vacation rental for our party of five on Airbnb right near Mount Tabor in Southeast Portland, and although it had a few hiccups (front door light busted, rusty backyard furniture, dog smell throughout) the house was amazing! Okay, I know I’m not painting the place in the best light by listing the cons first, so you just have to see it for yourself. All of us literally walked in and proclaimed immediately, “I want this house.”

It was an immaculate four-bedroom, 1.5 bath Craftsman bungalow with a radiant sunroom and plenty of amenities. The owner even put together a “welcome basket” for us filled with wine, cheeses and fruits from Trader Joe’s; it was wonderful to have that waiting for us to munch on when we all got in late after a full day of travel from the East Coast.

Check out the view of the dining room into the open living room — and you can see the sunroom beyond.

We had many a late night noshing on cheese and crackers, and of course, demolishing wine, right here in this living room.

The view onto the side back porch featured a foosball table!

The two bathrooms might have been my favorite rooms — thoughtfully customized and decorated, and featured built-in dressing tables and storage space.

My room was cute — sparse, but full of color.

THE FOOD… OH, THE FOOD!

We had an abundance of amazing food from the get-go. Brunch at the Country Cat began with a version of the Bloody Mary called Proud Mary, with a big honkin’ slice of beef jerky as garnish. After a few heavy sips, Erika’s rollin’ on the river!

The best dish on the table might have been the Cast-Iron Skillet Fried Chicken. Slightly maple-y and perfectly crisp, with a slice of savory-sweet toasted pecan spoonbread, this entire plate made us gasp and swoon.

Lunch in the Willamette Valley after wine tasting was easy to find, as the town we drove through to get to our wineries, Dundee, had a population of 3,000. There were just a few options, and we definitely chose the right one: Red Hills Market. We noshed on gourmet ham and salami sandwiches and wood-fired pizzas, and washed everything down with local brews on tap. I am not kidding when I say that everything we had was excellent. Of course, we had just come from an afternoon of wine-tasting in the fresh open air, bathed in the best sunshine Portland has seen all summer. Perhaps we could have eaten a wood-fired old rubber boot, and it would have still been fantastic if accompanied by a local 2008 Pinot Noir.

Red Hills Market had an extensive gift area within their market cafe, and of course I went a little crazy.

We were told by many foodie friends to swing over to Clyde Common, in The Pearl. Although we enjoyed the communal table concept, the music was loud and the food was a bit overwrought. We couldn’t really hear each other, or see the menus in the dimly lit space. In fact, I was reliant on the brightness coming out of the open kitchen (where the cooks all wore button-down shirts and ties underneath their aprons!) to figure out what to order. The most interesting thing on the menu was actually a dessert — a Tomato-Olive Oil Cake with lemon ice cream, walnut-thyme streusel, and tomato caramel.

The next evening, we returned to The Pearl to feast on Peruvian tapas at Andina. Because of the hype (and subsequent disappointment) of Clyde Common, I kept my expectations low for Andina. Turns out I didn’t need to.  Every tapas we ordered was spot-on and satisfying — including the Anticucho De Pulpo, or grilled octopus with chimichurri. It literally melted in your mouth.

As a last meal, we got the royal omakase treatment at the newly-opened Japanese hotspot Hokusei in Belmont. Our friend Jerry hooked us up with the owners, who closed off the 47-seat restaurant especially for our little party on a beautiful Sunday.

The executive chef Kaoru Ishii gave us personalized service right at our seats at the sushi prep bar. We watched him and owner Cody Auger meticulously adorn each of our 10 courses with glorious sauces, gold flakes, eel bones and roe. Anita turned to me a few times in a beer- and sake-induced haze and proclaimed, “I feel like I’m in a dream.”

We kicked off the meal with an Tako (Octopus) Sunomono. Clean, crisp textures and acidic flavors got us ready for what was to come.

Next came a Hiyashi Chawanmushi, a chilled Japanese egg custard with crab, scallop, black truffle & mitsuba (a Japanese parsley).

The spines on the sea urchins were still shuddering when Cody speared it. You can’t get fresher than this, my friends.

The payoff for the meticulous uni harvesting was unreal.

Next, the sake course to die for: Salmon stuffed with Shrimp and Scallop, topped with Ikura (roe). The sauce was creamy, citrusy, and slightly sweet; this plate was literally licked clean by most of us, no lie.

Watching Chef Kaoru preparing the Ebi Hotate Shinjo was like watching a master sculptor at work. He started with Japanese eggplant stuffed with shrimp & scallop, topped it with seared foie gras, then drizzled it with foie gras reduction, THEN topped it with whispers of gold leaves (below) ….

… THEN garnished it with a flash-fried eel spine, tied into a pretty knot. Like you do.

I almost passed out after this course, but Anita shook me awake for the next — Gindara Yuan Yaki: sweet soy & yuzu marinated cod. Everyone was camera-happy to immortalize these works of art before demolishing them!

Our actual sushi course put me over the edge. I was stuffed and ecstatic already, but had to make room for this: amaebi (sweet shrimp), yuzu-marinated hamachi (yellowtail), tai (red snapper), West Coast albacore, and Tasmanian ocean trout.

I also couldn’t stop staring at Cody, who is half-Japanese. He had a square jaw like Mike, and all I kept thinking was, “Is this what Max is gonna look like one day?”

WINE-ING GETS YOU EVERYWHERE

There’s something so illogical that comes over me when I visit a winery, like we did here in the Willamette Valley outside of Portland. Going against all natural urges to stay as young as I can for as long as possibly can, I will sip a smooth-as-silk Pinot and stare off into the verdant utopian hills, and I can picture myself retired right now, perhaps working (part-time, of course) behind a tasting bar in a wine room, meeting fine folks from all walks of life who want just a taste of the good life too. Here’s the view from the deck of Domaine Drouhin Oregon. Wouldn’t you want to daydream all the live long day?

So that being said, guess who was designated driver for the weekend? Yours truly! I was still able to sniff and taste the wines gently, but not indulge too much. And it’s quite alright. My girlfriends got to imbibe and enjoy, and as a testament to our age maturity, no one got sloppy — just sleepy.

I love thinking of Jen getting caught inside a wine glass, giving me her exasperated eye roll amongst Pinot Noir residue.

It was a perfect, almost-autumn day in which you could actually hear the breeze gently shuddering through these tall trees.

Grape leaves in the late August sunshine…

Cheers! Again and again!

FARM THIS!

The weather gods rewarded us this weekend, with highs of 80 — the sun’s rays were unimpeded by the Portland clouds that typically shroud the city, so we tried to maximize our time outside. And no visit to Portland is complete without a stop at the Farmers’ Market for some fresh berries and overall produce porn.

We were localvores to the hilt, as we enjoyed java, crepes and tamales — all made with ingredients from Oregon.

There was an all-male acapella group performing right on the grassy area near where we picnicked, and when they broke out into a hip-hop number, Erika muttered, “That’s so nerdy.”

 

HIKE THAT!

We had grandiose designs to head out of Portland to do some major hiking and spot some waterfalls, but with our collective jetlag and full bellies from exquisite meal after meal, we decided to stay in the city and poke around Forest Park. It was just perfect.

The hike was a little over three miles, which was just right. I mean, we had to make sure we were ready and on time for dinner that night. Priorities!

WHERE’S CHRISTIAN GREY?

Last but certainly not least, Anita and Sheela were on a quest to live out (somewhat!) the fictional forays of Anastasia Steele by looking for Christian Grey in Portland. Mind you, I haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey, but now I feel like I’ve already succumbed to the madness. For instance, Anita insisted we get a drink at the Marble Bar in the Heathman Hotel, which I presume was the scene of many torrid meetings between two lovers — in the book. Funnily enough, the Marble Bar ended up being this brightly lit sports bar with tourists in Hawaiian shirts bellying up to the bar. We kept teasing Anita, and I got this photo of her and Sheela with an abysmal Christian Grey wannabe looking on behind them.

Due to Anita’s utter disappointment in the real Marble Bar, we moved on to the Lobby Bar within the Heathman Hotel — it didn’t have as sexy a name, but it probably was the location more fitting for an intense, uh, entanglement. The wooden walls, the dimmed lights, the baby grand piano tinkling away in the corner, the riotously loud bat mitzvah taking place on the floor above the bar — yes, this was the place. A dubious Jen looks on, but Anita and Sheela were pretty satisfied. Honestly, we probably could have had the entire weekend at The Heathman and they would have been giddy.

 

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Anita September 4, 2012 at 1:03 pm

What about the TRUFFLES at Hokusei??!!! Real truffles!
I can taste them now… I licked that dish clean.

Reply

Angela September 5, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Yeah, that photo didn’t come out as good as the others… I will send you on email so you can virtually re-lick the plate. ;)

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Nikaury September 4, 2012 at 2:40 pm

I’m conflicted. I’m intensely happy for you and the ladies but also insanely jealous. Wish I could have been there. Looks and reads like a great time! Congratulations! You deserve it!

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Angela September 5, 2012 at 2:51 pm

We missed you so much! There was mention of Clock Radio… there needs to be a reunion.

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Anita September 4, 2012 at 4:58 pm

TRUFFLES!!! How could you forget the truffles (thank you, Hokusei)!!!
Mmmmmm… I licked that plate clean.

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Ezra Teske September 5, 2012 at 6:59 am

Thank you for posting such lovely photos of Portland!

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Angela September 5, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Hi Ezra, it was easy to take beautiful pictures there. I didn’t have to try hard :)

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Carl Tosh September 5, 2012 at 2:47 pm

I love your blog. Can’t wait to read more.

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Angela September 5, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Thanks Carl!

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Phyllis Auger September 8, 2012 at 1:26 pm

Thank you for the great photos and comments about our restaurant, Hokusei (I’m Cody’s mom)! Glad you enjoyed your meal there. I hope you don’t mind if I use a couple on our web site (in progress). St. Louis? I’m from there, my sister still lives there.

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Angela September 8, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Hi Phyllis! We really had an amazing time at your son’s restaurant. It was surely the highlight of our weekend, from the quality of the food to the friendliness of the service! I can send you some more photos that I took, all in hi-resolution, in case you need them. Let me know if you’d like that!

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Temple January 10, 2013 at 7:11 am

Great post, really enjoyed it!
— Temple

http://www.bigconceptdesigns.com

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Mikell Nielsen January 19, 2015 at 10:31 pm

Great article. I’m looking to plan a girls’ weekend in Portland with my friends. I have to ask…is your friend Jerry Drake? Our neighbor in Arizona was Jerry Drake (he played football for the Arizona Cardinals) and he sure does look like your “Jerry”!!! Crazy!

Reply

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