Leisure News and Notes

Portland — Fish Tacos, Voodoo Donuts and Punk Rock Fashion

The conservative girls shop 23rd Avenue in flashy, shiny spandex pants, mostly black, paired with some sexy stiletto heels. Their buns, for good or bad, are on full display. It’s as if some fabric initially meant for world-class sprinters accidentally leaked from the Nike R&D department, and mysteriously found its way to those designers who sell their wares to the high-end shops in Portland’s Pearl District.

Blocks away, yuppie mom’s that might typically wear Versace in a city like New York or Los Angeles, escort their young fledglings around downtown Portland looking like sexy versions of Pippy Longstocking: bright orange and/or aqua colored hair; dark eye shadow, some red lipstick; a tank top that exposes a tattoo or two; short and black leather skirt; some horizontally striped leggings to match the hair; and of course, some combat boots.

In Portland, this look is haute couture. In fact, to be dressed any other way seems abnormal, or pedestrian. If my wife and I lived in Portland, she might find herself wanting a pair of shiny, spandex maternity pants and stiletto heels, while I might desire to be seen in a black CBGB t-shirt and a pair of jeans, skateboard under my arm, and an eyebrow piercing.

Portland’s sense of fashion is deceiving to the point that it forces one to drop their judgment of appearances as that punk-rocker sitting next to you on the trolley might own a nicer house than you, drive a nicer car and possess a better education. In doing some online research prior to heading for Portland, I stumbled on an interview from 2006 in the Portland Mercury featuring chef/author Anthony Bourdain, of which he had this to say.

“I was struck by the preponderance of heavily tattooed, outwardly slacker-looking chefs and cooks here who I found to be unusually motivated, knowledgeable, ambitious, and very focused on specific areas of cuisine,”

Bourdain elaborated . “It’s not simply a case in Portland of, ‘I want to cook, man, sounds cool.’ These people all have very specific areas in mind, either types of food or an even tighter focus, such as wanting to make the best pizza in town, or the best croissant, or doughnut.”

And speaking of donuts, during our most recent visit, my wife and I waded through soaked and sleeping bums just to wait in a block-long line for a world-famous Voodoo Donut. The interior of Voodoo Donut is a late night, greasy and gothic paradise, as ‘donuts on steroids’ gleam and burst from behind a bright, twirling glass case in the corner of the small shop.

Ever wanted a grape-frosted donut covered in Lucky Charms? How about a raspberry jelly-filled donut slathered in a smurf-colored blue frosting? Or how about a cake donut covered with pink, bubble-gum flavored frosting and a piece of Double-Bubble in the middle for good measure? How about some bacon on that Maple Bar?

The brainchild of Kenneth “Cat Daddy” Pogson and Tres Shannon, Voodoo Donuts is open from 10 p.m. to 10 a.m. every day except Sunday and is typically at its busiest when the bar flies emerge in Portland’s Old Town, an area typically known as ‘the crotch’.

“Sometimes there are more people in Voodoo than in Dante’s or Berbati’s,” said Shannon, referring to Voodoo’s surrounding bars and clubs, which is hard to believe, considering Berbati’s Pan offers a near-perfect party setting, where local bands rock the back room, pool tables and a sports-bar scene fills the middle of the block-long building, and a dance floor with DJ populates the front of the house.

Dante’s is a live music lover’s dream, especially when considering the building’s history, having once housed a brothel, a flop-house and an early 1980s punk rock venue.

And both offer killer pizza, starting with Barbati’s killer Greek pita pizza, and ending with the traditional New York-style pizza at Dante’s, best served alongside a local micro-brew. Many cities in the Western US like to lay claim to being the ‘capital of the micro brewery’ – places like Fort Collins, Colorado, Seattle, and Portland. Portland, by far takes the cake as the true capital of micro-brews. It seemed like each bar, restaurant, burrito stand and convenience store featured a treasure of un-heard of and tasty-sounding brews.

After waiting a half hour for a Maple/Bacon bar, which I no longer wanted and knew my wife would eagerly eat for me, we slipped across the street, where I was treated to some of the best halibut fish tacos in history, served from a street side vendor, cooking out of a trailer!

And keep in mind, I’ve sampled fish tacos in cities all across the world, the previous best being a lobster taco at a beachside restaurant in Puerto Vallarta. The fish taco is one of the few things I feel qualified to judge.

I must have floated across the street, nose first, like Barney Rubble, because the cook manning the grill said, “you are just in time! I just grilled up some beautiful halibut, bro. And I’ve got homebrew back here.”

While noshing down those buttery tacos, which were smartly served with sautéed cabbage, cheese and some hot pico de gallo, I was treated to a local, homebrewed Cherry-Stout, which easily ranks as one of the most delicious beers I’ve ever tasted. That’s saying something too, considering I graduated from Colorado State University and currently live in Seattle, and have been a faithful beer-drinker for over 20 years.

To stumble on a trailer in Portland’s ‘crotch’, serving two members of the foodie family that I am actually qualified to review seemed like a miracle, but to find two ‘life-time’ favorites at that same trailer seemed like divine intervention. Based on a series of wonderful life events following this occurrence, I have no doubt that divine forces were at work that night, which brings me to the Hotel Lucia.

The Hotel Lucia sits in the midst of the action on Broadway, right in the heart of downtown Portland. A block one way takes you shopping, while a block the other way takes you to the all-nude review. In-between it all the Lucia sits like an oasis in a desert storm of action, an artsy boutique hotel that possesses a sweet, serene energy inside its walls.

The foyer of the Hotel Lucia -- quaint, simple and serene.

Upon entering the foyer guests are greeted by local artist David Hume Kennerly’s amazing black and white photography, a theme that exists on every floor of the Hotel Lucia. In all there are over 680 of Kennerly’s photos displayed in the Lucia’s public spaces, and guest-rooms. The black and white medium, combined with the photos subjects, which are typically old-school politicians, almost takes you back in time, when the pace of life was slow and connections more intimate.

Outside of our stately room, the wind howled, the rain slapped against the windows, fire trucks roared by, and people partied on the streets below. Inside, my wife and I snuggled in a huge, fluffy bed – happy, content, and eager to unknowingly take a bit of Portland home with us.

The Hotel Lucia is currently offering a few cool specials, the coolest of which is the Weekend Parking Package. There’s no sense driving around Portland. The city is totally walk-able, and there are trolley cars and cabs for those with sore feet. Simply drive up to the Lucia’s front door, have them park your car, and leave it there for the weekend. And then go for a walk.

Don’t forget to check out the out-of-print Portland’s Little Red Book of Stairs at the Multnomah County Central Library. Within its pages lay the keys to adventurous hikes, on the old, steep and intricate staircases that wind through some of Portland’s nicest neighborhoods. If forced to pick just one set of stairs to tackle, go for the sublime view of Mt. Hood on the stairs that cut through the terraced gardens at SW Champlain Drive, located in Arlington Heights.

Portland is a eclectic, punk rock town full of hidden pockets of haute culture. It serves as a great example of the Wild West spirit, or what’s left of it. People in Portland are still exploring, with their food, their fashion, their art, their music, and with their architecture.

Those who are lucky enough visit Portland, provided they seek out and explore some of the city’s hidden gems, are typically better for it.

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Wanderlust and Wine in the Valley — Walla Walla, Washington

Rarely do small towns like Walla Walla, Wash., appear on the travel itinerary. And its a shame because some of America’s small towns, while appearing pedestrian to the uninitiated, are actually hot pockets of outdoor fitness, eco and fashion hipness, historical awareness and gastric innovation.

Walla Walla sits in a sunny valley surrounded by rolling hills covered with dark green vineyards, and behind those hills stands the sublime Blue Mountain range. It almost looks like Tuscany. And it is quickly becoming a food and wine lover’s dream destination.

What looks like smalltown USA from the outside looking in, with its plain-looking, 1920′s-era frontier style architecture, is actually populated by cultural creatives from all over the country, in part thanks to Whitman College, but also because of the region’s intense focus on winemaking and organic agriculture. And typically where there’s good wine, good food follows. 

Main Street USA, Walla Walla with the Marcus-Whitman Hotel in the background.

Main Street USA, Walla Walla with the Marcus-Whitman Hotel in the background.

In fact, Walla Walla was recently touted by Sunset Magazine for not only owning America’s Best Main Street, but also for being one of Our Favorite Small-Town Foodie Haven’s.

But it’s not all about food and wine. Walla Walla is located on the Oregon Trail near the Washington and Oregon border, where the Whitman Mission National Historic site attracts thousands of visitors each year. A trip through the mission provides a deep education into a tragic and controversial story that you and your kids won’t find in a textbook.

Marcus Whitman and his wife Narcissa  established the mission in1836, and by 1847 they were both dead; Marcus took a Tomahawk to the head, while Narcissa was shot trying to escape what has become known as the Whitman Massacre, an act that prompted the Cayuse War. A seven-day pass to the Whitman Mission site is just $3.00, and ‘kids’ under 16 get in free .

Wine Valley GC #5

Just a few miles West of the Whitman Mission is Walla Walla’s spectacular new Wine Valley Golf Club. Draped across Eastern Washington’s massive wind-swept dunes like a lonely emerald carpet, Wine Valley offers up traditional links golf in a beautiful setting. For a more detailed review of the course, and more photos click here.

Being surrounded by rivers and mountains, plus a warm, dry climate, Walla Walla is also ideal for outdoor adventure. To the west about 35 miles, the Snake River and Yakima River merge with the Columbia River near the Oregon border, and the massive convergance of water provides ample fishing and boating opportunities on the Columbia and its many tributaries.

And the Umatilla National Forest of the Blue Mountains, located to the east of Walla Walla, provide ample hiking, fishing, camping and cycling opportunities.

Walla Walla’s Wine Wanderer
Flying Trout Winery is owned and operated by 27-year old Ashley Trout who originally came to Walla Walla from the East Coast to study at Whitman College, but started working in the town’s wineries during her freshman year. She was hooked instantly on the winemaking process, and upon her graduation from Whitman had earned a better education working in the vineyards than she had studying liberal arts at the exclusive, private college.

During the summer after graduating, Trout was injured in a rock climbing accident and missed the crush (wine harvest) in Walla Walla, because of a three-month rehabilitation. The time off made her realize how much she missed working in the vineyards. When finally healthy, she moved to Argentina in time for its crush, and begain establishing relationships at every level of the Argentine winemaking business, just as she had done in Walla Walla. It helped that she was fluent in Spanish.

“I kept coming back year after year to work in the vineyards for the Argentine crush,” she says. “After a while they realized I wasn’t just slave labor and started teaching me their craft. I also met a lot of the university winemaking students and grad students at the discos, who are really the future of winemaking.”

Flying Trout Winery ashley trout Flying Trout Winery foyer

The climate in that area of Argentina is almost identical to the climate in the Columbia Valley. By establishing vines with similar grapes in two different hempispheres, Trout is unique, and calls her lust to make wine in both countries, a “fascinating bi-hemispherical terroir”.

Her efforts in South America also allow Flying Trout to issue two releases per year, from two different parts of the world, all of which gets sold-out within three weeks of being released. It pays to be a member of Flying Trout’s wine club.

Says Trout, “it’s nice (selling out early) because I can go back to being a winemaker instead of a saleswoman.”

Just a few of the many barrels full of wineWhat wasn’t sold out during our visit were the Fyling Trout wines aging in barrels in the wearhouse situated behind Flying Trout’s tasting room.

Drinking wine straight from the barrel should rank at the top of any list for ‘things to do’ in Walla Walla on a Friday afternoon, especially after a long bike ride. Even novice wine drinkers can learn to appreciate the subtle strawberry flavors still brewing in the 2008 Horse Heaven Hills Malbec, or the spicy, lingering flavor of apple that dominates the 2007 Rattlesnake Hills Malbec.  

To join Flying Trout’s wine club, where club members get first access to cases of the winery’s latest releases, click here. Membership is free. To set up a visit to the tasting rom, call Ashley at (509) 520-7701, or email her at talk@flyingtroutwines.com.

Where to Stay and What to Eat
The most distinguishing, and tallest building in Walla Walla is the Marcus-Whitman Hotel, located in the heart of downtown, just two blocks from Main Street. In 1999, local techonology enterpreneur Kyle Mussman (check out his sailing blog) bought the building, saving it from being destroyed and then pumping $33 million into the rennovation of the old Marcus-Whitman Hotel. In the process he revived the classic hotel to the point where it matches its glory days when the old Marcus-Whitman Hotel played host to guests like former President Dwight Eisenhower, after whom a suite is named on the seventh floor.

mw lobby - click to enlarge eisenhower 2 - click to enlarge eisenhower suite 2 - click to enlarge

Filled with oak paneling and marble floors, the lobby of the hotel is dark and cool, and a serence contrast to Walla Walla’s hot and sunny weather. What was once a hostel and designated for demolition is now a sophisticated space decorated in classic style, offering finely appointed and comfortable suites at reasonable rates, amazing customer service, and even an art collection on the third floor.

And then there’s the food.

Upon request, the head chef of Marcus Whitman’s The Marc restaurant, Hank “Bear” Ullman offer’s his dinner guests a chance to sit at the ultra-cool Chef’s Table. For $125 diners can eat at a table located in the kitchen, eating a custom-made five course meal that features locally grown and sourced produce and meats. The energy in The Marc’s kitchen is lively, with the chef’s working hard to please, and the off-the-menu food is off-the-charts good, making the experience worth the price tag.

The Marc's Chef's Table Guests Enjoy VIP Service. 'Bear' and his crew serving a recent party.

The Marc's Chef's Table Guests Enjoy VIP Service. 'Bear' and his crew serving a recent party.

The menu from our visit to the Chef’s Table included: a first course of Oregon dungeness crab salad complete with orange and coriander finish; followed by a plate of wild Pacific troll-caught salmon, served on heirloom tomatoes and mizuna and topped with a tomato-saffron vinaigrette. Next to the salmon was grilled Oregon quail, presented over an English pea puree.

All of this was served alongside Flying Trout Winery’s Torrontes.

Next came a palate cleansing salad of local greens and apples, dressed with meyer lemon and a meyer lemon vinagrette. According to Bear, “the acidic salad breaks up the rapid-fire protiens coming at you with something simple and crisp.”

The third course, served with a local Syrah, took the dinner to the next level: Rocky Mountain buffalo filet on pâtes aux champignons, which consisted of locally sourced Buffalo tenderloin, served on top of a bed of bacon and a fois gras-wild mushroom pate. To top it off, two fried quail eggs, served over easy, were slipped between the bacon and the filet.

Rocky Mountain Buffalo Filet on Pâtes aux Champignons

Rocky Mountain Buffalo Filet on Pâtes aux Champignons

By the fourth course some of Bear’s Chef’s Table guests started slowing down and getting full, but Bear kept the heat on, rewarding the heavier eaters by breaking out a melt-in-your-mouth Anderson Ranch free-range roasted rack of lamb, served with Bing cherry chutney. 

The fifth course was dessert, and a surprisingly tasty, and strategic selection – Rock Star energy drink sorbet with Bing cherries.

Bear’s knowledgeable crew helps Chef’s Table guests, and all diners at The Marc pair glasses, or bottles of wine for each course, so even wine-drinking amateurs have a chance to experience what a proper food and wine pairing tastes like.

“It all goes back to relationships, connections and taking care of people,” says Bear. “I’ve been here for nine years now and have built fantastic relationships with the organic community and winemakers. We get asparagus the same morning it’s cut, we trim our own micro greens as we need them, and I have a farmer that is willing to get up at 3:00 a.m. to go pick squash blossoms before the sun hits them, so to be successful with this kind of product, all you really have to do is not mess it up.”

Ullman and The Marc certainly don’t mess things up, in fact, the Marcus-Whitman’s restaurant is spot on, just like the hotel.

Other restaurants worth checking out in Walla Walla include: the Saffron Mediterranean Grill, Whitehouse-Crawford, the Creekside Grill, and for breakfast the farmer’s market located on 4th and Main Street, which takes place each Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 a.m. — 1:00 p.m. Not only are there good eats, for cheap, but typically a band and a friendly atmosphere that will make you forget your wine hangover.

farmer's market market band market berries

Getting Around
Walla Walla’s population is just over 30,000. It’s a small town. Don’t bother driving around. Instead, rent a bike from Allegro Cyclery. For $35 a day, Allegro will rent your bike of choice. 

allegro cyclery

Jump on a comfy commuter bike, which will perform nicely on Walla Walla’s flat streets, and then cruise the city’s old neighborhoods at supersonic speeds, or take the bike trails leading out of town towards the surrounding vineyards. Allegro provides a Walla Walla bike trail map for reference.

Live the wine and food life like a Euro by renting a bike at Allegro! After a few quick laps around Walla Walla, you’ll be glad you did.

Why Should You Visit Walla Walla?
The wine and food explosion currently happening in Walla Walla, and within the Tri-Cities area in general, is sure to attract more attention and tourist dollars to Walla Walla, which let’s be honest, was struggling to find its identity twenty years ago. Now, its all about living close to the area’s rich, wine and sweet onion producing soil; where the food that’s consumed is grown next-door and picked that day, and where the vintners produce wines from vines that actually perculate with the distinctive flavors of strawberry, spicy pepper,  grapefruit. basil, or plum.

The mountains and rivers that surround the city provide a plethora of outdoor adventure, and look inviting from a distance, a big contrast from the craggy Rocky and Cascade Mountain ranges. The golf in Walla Walla is championship-worthy, and the area is full of history lessons. 

The vibe on Main Street Walla Walla is hometown cool – the candy shop is located in the perfect spot, right between the vintner’s wine-tasting rooms — and the people in Walla Walla are super friendly, welcoming, and down to earth.

Teddy Roosevelt, explorer extrordinairre, once said Walla Walla left, “”the pleasantest impression upon my mind of any city I visited while in the Northwest.” 

When thinking about your next three-day weekend consider taking a trip to Walla Walla. But don’t go unless you can get a room at the magnificent Marcus-Whitman Hotel. 

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Live Like a King in Mexico for a Pauper’s Price

img_49791Puerto Vallarta (PV) is a special place in Mexico, a harbor of huge proportions that cradles rich restaurants, beautiful beaches, great golf, cold cerveza on que, and limitless adventure — all available without breaking the bank. Having been to PV a few times I now feel qualified to offer the following recipe for five-star beaches and adventure.

Flights to PV will set you back $275-$450, depending upon your place of origin, and represent the bulk of the trip’s expense. In terms of the hotel, skip the all-inclusive resorts and book a room at the Hotel Rosita for $35 per night. The hotel is secure, the rooms are clean, the beds nice enough and the location is central to the action on Vallarta’s boardwalk. What more do you need?

From the Rosita’s central location you have two options for day trips — north to Punta de Mita (for surfers), or south to Yelapa. Either way, you are looking at an hour of travel by bus and/or boat, so getting an early start is key. PV offers hiking and canopy tours downtown for those who don’t want to trek for an hour, but for those seeking pristine beaches and an original adventure for just a few hundred pesos, getting out of PV-proper is step one.

The day of your adventure, get going at 7:00 a.m., even if you have to fight the tequila cobwebs.

Get on a (free) bus downtown that is headed South. Tell the driver (or get the low-down from the Rosita’s front desk) you want to go to Boca de Tomatlan and he will help you with the correct bus transfer, of which there is only one. You’ll be on the bus for about 30 minutes, or longer.

At Boca you come to the end of the road, literally. Waiting for you in Boca are a handful of water taxis in a small harbor. Negotiate a reasonable price ($10-$20) for a round-trip taxi ride to Yelapa.

10 minutes later, with guaranteed smiles on your faces from the water taxi ride, you’ll arrive in a paradise called Yelapa. And virtually alone. Aside from a few huts offering cerveza’s, beach food and kayak rentals, it’s just you, the crabs and a few tourists who paid up the #$@ to be there. But Yelapa is just a pit stop.

After a late breakfast rent some kayaks and head even further south, to the beaches near Chimo. Don’t forget to bring cerveza’s with you, as there is literally nothing and no one after you leave Yelapa.

img_52611

During a recent trip with friends from our island, the guys spent hours on these beaches laughing and playing smashball, and bodysurfing, while the wives relaxed in the soft sand and warm sun. At that moment, our vacation life and that of our adventurous, travelling friends had become completely intertwined and euphoric. We had found ‘the place’, that place that Talking Heads used to sing about! It was ours! And when the time came, no one wanted to leave! 

We eventually paddled back to Yelapa sunburned and slaphappy, just in time for our water taxi back to Boca, but not before laying full claim to what has become affectionately known as del negro crab beach. 

By the time we got back to PV it was dark and dinnertime, dinner being something the restaurants in downtown PV do quite well. So well, in fact, that dinner in Vallarta is a whole other blog topic.

Get yourself to del negro crab beach. It will cost you less than a lame canopy tour in PV, and deliver far more enjoyment.

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Vallarta Cigar Factory Wows Wedding Guests

Recently at a fine wedding in Bucerias, Mexico, my wife and I entered the vibrant, latin-flavoured, moon-lit reception area and stumbled upon a man rolling cigars. Big one’s, little one’s, fat one’s and skinny one’s, in mild, medium, full, chocolate and vanilla flavors; this man rolled them all.

Having never been witness to such a fascinating craft, it seemed only natural for me to come home and spread the gossip of what should be a standard at all wedding receptions. The men, and many of the women, were quite pleased with this luxury addition. Having been a lifelong afficianado, until recently, of all things tobacco, the urge to splurge was overwhelming and I gave in to what was the mildest, best-tasting cigar I’ve ever had. The little chocolate one after dinner was pretty good too.

My wife even took part!

For those wedding planners with interests in the Puerto Vallarta area, make it easy on yourselves and get friendly with the guys at the Vallarta Cigar Factory. They do an awesome job. For locations in the rest of the world, you’ll have to do the research yourselves.

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