Global warming or just good luck? All I know is our three and a half days in Portland looked a lot like the previous few days in Sacramento-sunny and 60 degrees. Still, there was no mistaking we were somewhere else. The lush greenery giving way to the types of intense red and yellow fall colors you rarely see in California. The ghostly presence of Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens (or what's left of it) looming in the distance. The way neighborhoods could be hippie and bohemian without a hint Haight-Ashbury-type sleaze. The odd presence of lawn gnomes everywhere.
And, of course, the food. Any trip that includes a 90 minute Bikram yoga class (when in Rome) and a hike to the top of Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge had better include the food to fuel it. Our tour of Portland, Oregon's food offerings began the first night with a visit to the Sapphire Hotel. This little bistro is located in a former brothel, and it looks the part. The walls were a deep red, antique nicknacks were everywhere, while versions of Kurt Cobian's hipper younger cousins filled the seats. And no, it's not a hotel (or brothel) any more.
We started with Sapphire salad, organic greens in a citrus vinaigrette topped with walnuts and a really excellent parmesan ($8). Unable to decide between the salmon corn cakes ($10) and the seared ahi ($11), we went for both. The ahi was particularly good, hot outside and cold inside, though I found the sauce that came with it a little overwhelming (luckily, it came on the side).
Our next stop was Hot Lips Pizza, a Portland institution. This was just for a quick slice while sightseeing. But I've never had lamb pizza before, let alone with kale on it. Or Shiitake mushroom and green chili peppers. Both slices were amazing, and clocked in at a very reasonable $3.75 (everything seemed cheaper here). They even make their one fruit sodas, including a black raspberry with a deep red color and bits of real fruit in it.
After yoga on the middle day we had "rock n' roll" breakfast at Genie's, a popular spot with a long wait. The stereo was churning Sonic Youth and similar tunes in the bar as I drank dark, bitter, wonderful coffee out of a cup that itself was practically the size of the Gorge. This place specializes in Eggs Benedict about twelve different ways. Hollandaise sauce is general not my thing. So I was first confused when I was told that their sauce had "broken" that day-which, I was informed, is when the eggs and the butter separate. All in all, a very strange thing to hear from a punk rock pixie of a waitress with lots of tattoos and her hair dyed fuchsia. Once we got that sorted out, our breakfast lasted us two meals. I had the Dungeness crab scramble, a delicious fatty retox after a Bikram class. (Of course, it seems that everywhere we went advertised their food as organic and locally farmed, so I probably didn't retox much).
Our tour concluded with one of the best Pho places I have ever been. Pho Van is a small local chain, with four locations in Oregon. The one we went to didn't look like much, a long low-building in a strip mall, a chintzy tile floor and nine brightly-colored koh (carp) crowded into a too-small murky tank. But I could tell from the smell, we were in the right place. I had the vermicelli noodles pork dumplings. Normally this my favorite, and it was good.
But when I got to see, then taste, the beef and chicken noodle soups some of the people I was with got, regret kicked in. The weather was finally starting to turn as our flight approached, the sky sodden but not broken yet broken like Hollandaise, the air turning colder. I kept sneaking spoon fulls of broth until my hand was swatted away. I've had a lot of this type of food, almost all of it really good, but this broth had some sort of extra spice (Cardamom? Cinnamon?) that kicked into a new gear. Then it was off to the airport, our bellies so full and happy that even airport security couldn't bring us down.