Portland, Oregon has long been on my travel wishlist. Through various celebratory articles and positive reports from friends at Nike HQ, I’d developed a perception of the city as a laidback utopia of pedestrian and cyclist-friendly shopping streets, lively craft breweries, and - of course - really, really fantastic food.
I can certainly attest to the latter, but you’ll have to hold tight for my verdict on the rest. Last weekend, my grand plans for exploring the city (in between epic tasting menus at the inaugural Chef’s Week PDX) were thwarted by the region’s worst winter storm in memory. The snow fell, the artisan bakeries closed, and Portland essentially ground to a halt. I made multiple attempts to venture beyond a five block radius of my hotel, but each time I trudged back within the hour; my ambitious plans curtailed by a thick frosting of snow and a sea of ‘Closed’ signs.
Luckily my hotel - downtown’s plush boutique spot, The Nines - made for a cosy place to bundle up and drink Malbec at the bar. More importantly, all the Chef’s Week dinners went ahead as planned. Over four days I got to sample food from PDX and beyond at the city’s best restaurants, culminating in an epic 21 course dinner cooked by 14 of the West Coast’s very best chefs. Portland might’ve let me down on the weather front, but it delivered some of the best food I’ve eaten in my life. Can’t be mad at it for that.
A Brief List of Travel Tips for Portland (to be expanded on a future trip)
Stay…in the plush and conveniently-located environs of The Nines, or at Portland’s Ace hotel if you’re looking for something a bit more affordable/value having an excellent Stumptown Roasters coffee shop on site.
Cosy up at Ava Gene’s in the hip Division neighbourhood - an atmospheric Italian-American restaurant, with the look, feel, and fantastic food that you’d expect at the buzziest Brooklyn hot spot.
Satiate your sweet tooth with a trip to Woodblock Chocolate; a family-run chocolate manufactory that uses only raw cane sugar and the finest cacao in its chicly-packaged bars.
Drink…a perfect Old-Fashioned at The Multnomah Whiskey Library - a seductive underground lair lined with obscure malts from around the world.
Have brunch at Tasty N Alder, a cool downtown corner restaurant, where you can solve the perennial ‘sweet or savoury’ brunchtime dilemma with a bunch of smaller plates. Don’t miss the baked prunes with Taleggio, or the polenta with chicken thigh sugo, mozzarella, and poached egg.
Enjoy Happy Hour at the Ace Hotel’s in-house restaurant Clyde Common - home to the much-loved ‘Bourbon Renewal’ cocktail with bourbon (duh), cassis and lemon. Drinks are cheap in the afternoon and also after 11pm, when they serve cut-price cheeseburgers, and french fries with harissa and creme fraiche. (A common occurrence - Portland gives very good Happy Hour across town)
Take in the view at Departure, the fancy-pants restaurant on The Nines’ top floor that is helmed by Chef’s Week founder, Gregory Gourdet. Enjoy the glittering Portland panorama as you eat Gourdet’s innovative pan Asian fare.
Watch a film…. from one of the cosy armchairs at Living Room Theaters, where staff will deliver wine and popcorn straight to your seat.
Get your Iron Fix at Urban Farmer - The Nines’ more casual downstairs restaurant, that takes its steak offerings (Grass-fed Oregon beef? Pasture-raised? Grain-finished?) very seriously indeed.
Shop… at Wildfang - a recently opened boutique in the Industrial District that caters strictly to stylish tomboys.
Get around…on the MAX Red Line - the easiest way to downtown from the airport - with the help of the local bus network, or simply on foot. Don’t bother with taxis unless you absolutely need to; apparently they’re very unreliable, snow or no snow.
Don’t forget to pack a raincoat, a hat, and some ‘sensible’ shoes. Portland is a city that favours the practical over the directional when it comes to making fashion statements. After last weekend, I know why.