Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Eat Me, Drink Me; Portland

Trip date: August 2018

I like to take trains. I like to check out the scene in Portland from time to time. I like my friend Aaron who lives in Los Angeles. So when Aaron suggested we meet in the middle of the west coast for some eating and drinking I started packing my bags!

I had a very relaxing, if hazy, ride down to Portland on a Friday morning. The PNW had been socked in with smoke from the summer wildfires and it made for an eerie and slightly wheezy few weeks. As I did a bit of work from the observation car, I was happy to see the skies clearing as we headed south.
I had been too busy to pack a lunch which was a very bad move. There is nothing at Seattle's King Street Station to buy and the train has some pretty crappy food. Luckily I had a thermos of rosé with me. Breakfast of champions! I love sitting in the observation car on this train, when they have volunteers from the Park Service giving info about the areas we pass through. This day's lecture included the story of DB Cooper
My train arrived a few hours before Aaron's flight so I took an Uber to Pok Pok for lunch. This old favorite never disappoints. The front desk guy nicely stored my suitcase while I enjoyed a makrut lime infused gin and tonic, crazy spicy duck larb, and of course the signature chicken wings. And when my gin and tonic couldn't cut the heat, the bartender expertly sent me a thick mango juice which did the trick.

Our Airbnb was just 3-blocks away and was a cute little 2 bedroom cottage behind a larger house. It wasn't perfect, with the bathroom downstairs and both bedrooms up, but for our short stay it was the perfect location in the Richmond area.
Aaron arrived and we headed to Palomar, opened last year by bartender Ricky Gomez, formerly of the Teardrop Lounge. Ricky has long been one of my favorite bartenders, his drinks were always spot on and he has always been a gracious and interesting host. His new bar is just like that! We only had time for one, but I would love to go for a few rounds next time I'm in town, during lunch when I can try the food too!

Aaron and I were meeting friends of his at Castagna for dinner. We were very excited as Chef Justin Woodward has worked for some of the world's best restaurants and has received so many awards!

Ultimately, the dinner was fine but a little disappointing considering the expense. My dinner companions didn't like the space, although I did. But the two things that stood out were 1) when I made the reservations, 2 months in advance, I made note that my friend doesn't eat pork or shellfish. Each of the dishes that contained those were just swapped out with vegetarian options for him. Boring. 2) None of the dishes were very memorable save for the crab/cucumber dish and the muffin/foie gras dish. But on a positive note the service and wine pours were great.
Aaron and I had nightcaps at another new bar, Deadshot. It's heavy on bitter drinks and on this Friday night was very light on customers. Our drinks were good but it was hard to get a vibe on the place.

Saturday morning we headed to another new spot, Canard, for breakfast. From the folks at Le Pigeon, this spot knows how to guild a lily. We had a fantastic brunch of pastrami wrapped veal paté, the most perfectly executed omelet I've ever seen, and what the chef's refer to as "QuackStack"- the most delicious dish of pancakes with duck gravy, Tabasco onions, and a fried duck egg. There is an option to add foie gras.

All this was had with some great breakfast cocktails. I highly recommend a meal or three here!

Our afternoon was spent trying to walk all that amazing brunch off. Over the bridge we went to downtown where we stumbled upon Union Barber. Aaron got a buzz and we both were given free glasses of bourbon. So civilized.

Next up we did a little shopping at Powell's Books before continuing our walk up to Nob Hill. I hadn't been in this area before and it is adorable! Tons of shops, cafes, restaurants, etc. We found a really unique shop called The Meadow which specializes in just salts, bitters, and chocolates. Brilliant! From here we randomly stopped into Southland for their 3pm Happy Hour before finishing our walk at the Aria Distillery so I could buy a new Bull in China mixing vessel.

Phew! We were ready for our 1st dinner. Yes, I said 1st. Travelling with Aaron involves a bit of competitive eating, and he had two dinners set for us. I added in two cocktail bars. We travel well together!

We showed up at Nimblefish, which is getting hot press everywhere, right before opening and were seated at the sushi bar. Exceptionally good sushi at very good prices. We both loved it!
Time for a drink! We headed north to Expatriate which I had heard a lot about and was excited to check out. I won't go into it, but let's just say the bartender was a dick and was talking shit about some Seattle bars even though he knew I knew the folks working there. Bad manners, ok drinks.
 Dinner #2 at Tusk was also fantastic! Everything was delicious and they had a special lamb shank on the menu which was amazing. Also a super fun atmosphere. Highly recommend!
Not to be outdone by Aaron's two dinners, we headed to Angelface for nightcaps. As we had been asking various bartenders for recommendations on where to go during the weekend, this one seemed to generate love or hate responses. But we both loved it!

It's a tiny space, with a lovely horseshoe bar. There are no menus, you just tell them what you want or what type of spirits you like. I honestly can't remember what they made me as it had been a long day but we had great service and our drinks were delicious. Another recommendation for you!

The next morning, while Aaron headed to his friend's house for brunch, I went to the newly reopened Kachka. This Russian restaurant has become the darling of Portland in recent years, so they expanded the restaurant to a new location and turned the old one into a more casual eatery.
I get the hype! I had such a delicious lunch here. Interesting cocktails, wonderful food with traditional roots without being afraid to improve. Like my pelmeni sauteed in brown butter and topped with sour cream (instead of being boiled traditionally) or the pickle juice shots. Get there!

I met Aaron at Clyde Common, which is always on my to-go list and serves cocktails on Sunday afternoons. Mutual friend and aquavit slinger Jacob joined and we had a good catch up. And then it was time to say goodbye. 

This time I had my Uber make a quick stop for a salad and some canned rosé for my train ride home.
As Amtrak made its way north, we re-entered the wildfire smoke. The sunset that night was an ominous orange because of it.

It was a quick trip to hang out with my friend but it's always good to get down to Portland. And we have a longer trip up our sleeves...and I ate salad for a week after!

All photos from Portland here.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

All JLo Has in Las Vegas

Trip date: April 2018

I wouldn't say any of us are big fans of Jennifer Lopez, but any excuse to head to Las Vegas is a good excuse, so Sandra, Lorraine, and I bought tickets to the All I Have tour and headed to sin city. The last time I went down there for a concert it was to see Prince!
It was also Lorraine's birthday weekend, so we were super happy when we were upgraded on Alaska Air to 1st class! We promptly drank them out of mimosas;  I mean, it wasn't hard as we each ordered 2 rounds and we weren't the only one's on the plane. We were informed that they only had one bottle of champagne on board! WTF? I used the complimentary wifi to send a little tweet and all of a sudden our flight attendant was raiding the coach cart for mini bottles of prosecco and we had refills. Social media FTW.

Lorraine had a crazy good Uber deal so we took it exclusively while in town. It was nice to see that all the casinos have designated areas for ride shares now. Last time there was still a lot of trying to figure out where to get picked up. Once we collected our luggage we got an Uber to town, first stop... lunch!

There is no place I enjoy eating at more in Las Vegas than Bouchon. After storing our luggage for us, we were seated right by the open French doors, giving us a great viewpoint of the gorgeous restaurant and the outside veranda. A couple of bottles of Chablis, a tasty tartine, perfect fries, and impeccable service! The best!

Lorraine got a text that our room was ready and we made our way to the Aria where we'd be staying for the weekend. No need to queue up to check in, we just scanned the code they sent us and retrieved our keys. BRILLIANT!
It took us about 15 minutes to drop our bags, change into our suits, and hit the pool. They were even able to make Aperol Spritz!

That evening we went out for a bit of gambling before tucking in to Shake Shack for dinner. God how I love that burger! And then we made our way to the theater inside of Planet Hollywood for JLo!

She put on an incredible show! She danced her ass off non stop in the most amazing outfits! There were elements of old Vegas added in on some numbers which made it very cool too. We all had a super fun time and I would absolutely recommend seeing her. All I Have is in residence until Sept 29, 2018 so you still have time to jet on down!

We finished the night gambling back at the Aria. Cuz, Vegas!

At Michael Mina's Bardot Brasserie the pink flows during brunch on Saturday and Sunday; $25 for bottomless rosé (still, sparkling, or back and forth) so obviously that is where we were the next morning.

The restaurant is really pretty and the menu read deliciously (escargot in puff pastry, King crab crepe, hash browns with fondue) but honestly we all agreed that the food was fine. However since we took down 4 bottles of rosé we still came out winners!

Then we spent the entire afternoon by and in the pool. That's pretty much my perfect day in Vegas.

That night we had reservations at the very exclusive é by Jose Andres. Hidden behind the main restaurant at the Cosmopolitan, there are just 9 seats all gathered around a central bar top where all the dishes are prepared in sight.
It's not inexpensive; $275 for dinner and $130 more for wine pairings (there are higher priced pairing options for you super fancy folks!), but it was a very good meal and a great time.
The 20-some dishes are modern with Spanish leanings. The wines were similar. There were a few people having the $250 wine pairings and after I asked the somm about a couple of those pours he discretely poured me more than a few tastes of those as well. That was great for me, but if I was on the other end of the bar and saw that I'd probably be a bit irked.
We were completely full and more than a bit tipsy when we finished. The girls went to bed but I stayed up and played blackjack. Cuz, Vegas!

The entire next day was spent at the pool. Lorraine showed up carrying bacon, egg, and cheese brioche sandwiches from Eggslut. Happy birthday to her!
We also had lunch at the Aria pool's restaurant, which was fine. And later I went to the spa and totally blissed out in the sauna and hot tubs before having a fantastically relaxing massage. Cuz, it's so stressful in Vegas after all!

Lorraine's birthday night was a bit low key as we had gone pretty big the previous two. Pre-dinner drinks were had while gambling at the Aria, followed by more drinks and dinner at the old school Peppermill. As their website states, it's "as Vegas as Vegas gets". All that was missing were strippers, and I'm sure I saw one having a drink at the bar! It is a great place for people watching, basking in the glow of tacky neon, drinking White Russians, and eating true Americana fare!

Tiki drinks at Golden Tiki were had for dessert. This off the strip rum den was super fun with awesome Polynesian decor and delicious classic and original tiki drinks! I'd highly recommend a stop here!
It was time to head back to the strip and we took a little detour through the beautiful botanical gardens in the Bellagio before taking the monorail to the Aria.

There wasn't enough time for the pool before we headed to the airport the next day, so we did a bit more gambling and then had a pretty good lunch at Julian Serrano Tapas at the Aria. I liked our room at this hotel and I thought the location was really good. I think the service of the housekeeping staff could have been much better though.
A great girl's weekend in Las Vegas! All photos here.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Lummi Island Getaway(s)

Trip date: October 2017 and August 2018

During SIFF's annual fundraiser last year, my friend Gail convinced me to go in with her on a bid for the Willow's Inn dinner and stay over. She'd never been and was really interested in checking it out. I've been multiple times so I was easily influenced (the copious amounts of wine they serve you during the auction didn't hurt either!)

We raised our auction paddles until we won (charity and all that) and planned our trip up to Lummi for early October, hoping to still have good weather.

It was a beautiful fall afternoon when we drove up and after we crossed the Sound on the little Lummi Island ferry we stopped to take in the view of Mt. Baker.
Upon checking in, Gail realized that she knew Ann, who was at the front desk, from back in Minnesota! Small world!

We had booked the Heather Room which is one of the only rooms with a King sized bed. It also had a very large steam shower in the bathroom. We changed our clothes and headed out to the front porch where Happy Hour starts at 4pm. The chef's were just finishing their family meal outside in the late afternoon sun.

As we enjoyed a few drinks, the chefs started bringing some wonderful little bites out from the kitchen. A selection of different cucumbers from the garden, spot prawns in nasturtium blossoms, the signature crispy kale leaves, etc. Everything was delicious and beautiful and a great way to ease into dinner.

We were moved inside for dinner where 14 wonderful courses were presented, not all at once mind you! Some of the highlights for me were the oysters and watercress, sea urchin with chanterelles, rock fish in bone broth, and bread with crab brain butter.

And of course the sunset! It's always a crowd pleaser!

After dinner we were invited into the kitchen where we had a very fun chat with Chef Blaine complete with a little nightcap and tour of the pantry. Foodie-heaven I tell you!
Our stay also included breakfast which I hadn't done in years. And it's different now. We were each served a brilliant green juice along with our coffee. Then they brought us yogurt with Bourbon sauce (YUM), jam, and granola.
Next came a soft boiled egg and a large plate with bacon, smoked salmon, pancetta, a crepe, cheeses, and kale. It's a big breakfast! And it was very good!

We checked out and took a nice walk along Sunset Beach; completely deserted except for us. There are so many different colors and textures going on there, I love it!
Then we did a quick drive around the island, stopping to admire the moody skies in Legoe Bay, before catching the ferry back to the mainland.
We decided to take the Chuckanut Drive home, which afforded more views. It was a great overnight getaway!

While on the island I had pointed out the Willows Inn Beach House to Gail; I've wanted to rent it for years. She got totally interested in it too, so when the booking calendar opened for 2018, Gail jumped on and booked the entire compound which consists of the Beach House and exterior rooms sharing the same deck, Low Tide and High Tide, for a weekend in August.
Originally we thought we'd invite a small group, but then Gail, Angela, and I decided that we were just going to make it a girl's weekend and have the entire space to ourselves. Decadent.

Angela has a Jeep and offered to drive luckily, as we all brought way too many provisions for our weekend. The Jeep was packed!

We stopped in the cute town of Bow for lunch and to visit a few of the galleries and shops there. I really wanted to try the tacos at Mariposa but they were closed for vacation. Tweets looked to have some good food but all the sandwiches looked huge and none of us were that hungry. We ended up at Slough Food, where I'd eaten before, and had a nice little lunch and some rosé out on their patio.

Back on the road, we arrived at the Lummi Island ferry dock where there was a pretty good sized line already. I've never been to the island on a weekend and the little ~20 car ferry fills up fast. Luckily it is only a ~10 minute crossing so the wait goes quick.
We drove to Willows Inn where we checked in, and then drove 1/2 mile back down the road to the Beach House. 27 steps down to the deck and we were in our own little slice of heaven!
Ann had sweetly left us a chilled bottle of champagne, so we popped that and went for a walk along the beach, which we had all to ourselves! In addition to the big gorgeous deck, with it's dining table and adirondack chairs, the space also has a private fire pit and hammock. Unfortunately there was a burn ban due to summer wildfires in Canada and WA so we didn't get a chance to have a beach fire.

We spent the rest of the afternoon on the deck enjoying the amazing weather, watching sea lions play around a rock outcrop, hoping for a whale sighting, and catching sight of a bald eagle. With wine of course.

That evening I made us a round of Pimm's Cups and we put out a big cheese board. The island provides some of the best sunsets ever, this one was no exception, complete with one of the cruise ships from Seattle sailing north into it!

We stayed on the deck until late in the night watching the Perseid Meteor Shower. It was so incredibly relaxing!

In the morning we joined others from Willows Inn for a tour of Loganita Farms. The farm grows fruits, vegetables, and flowers exclusively for the Inn. And we ran into Chef Blaine checking on the produce.

He had picked a melon and cut into it which was then offered to us to taste along with some cute little baby carrots and nasturtium seeds to take home and plant. It was a super fun, and tasty, tour!

After the tour we decided to drive to the main part of town as we heard there was a farmers market on Saturdays. We couldn't help but to laugh when we pulled up and found one stand selling tomatoes and melons and two others selling crafts. Luckily we weren't relying on anything since we had completely over-prepared!

We took a little drive around the island heading south from the market. I hadn't been to this side before and it was interesting to see all the homes. We also saw quite a few of the resident deer which tend to hang out on the side of the road eating blackberries.
It was a short way to the church where we found the trail behind it, really a set of steps, that lead down to the beach for a little walk. Then we explored the cemetery when we came back up.
Our drive continued around Legoe Bay and we stopped again when we saw a cute shop next to a winery. The folks at Legoe Bay winery were very friendly and informative about the island but the wine wasn't to any of our tastes. They did have some articles about about the reef net fishing that happens in the bay in front of them which was super interesting.
We returned home to the Beach House for lunch of burrata, peaches, tomatoes, and basil. Then we all just relaxed until it was Happy Hour.

Even though we weren't having dinner at Willows Inn (the restaurant isn't able to provide vegetarian menus which my friends are) we were invited to come and have drinks on the patio. The sun had come back out for our 1/2 mile walk. The girls stuck with wine but I had a few of their lovely cocktails.

At 6pm dinner service starts at the restaurant and the kitchen starts sending out a few rounds of snacks to the diners enjoying drinks. We were very happy to also receive a few dishes, including the signature kale chips, and complimentary pours of their house hard cider.

We headed home for sunset on our deck and continued watching for whales.  The night clouded up so no shooting star sightings but it was still nice enough to stay on the deck all evening.
In the morning I made us pineapple mimosas and a blueberry baked pancake for breakfast. Once more we were able to enjoy our meal outside before packing up.
We were so sad to leave this wonderful Beach House! I have a suspicion that we'll be there again.

The ferry line Sunday morning was crazy long and we finally ended up on the 3rd one. We drove home on Chuckanut and stopped at The Oyster Bar for lunch. I expected it to be quite casual and was surprised by the linen tablecloth dining room. Lunch was great, as were our last views of the San Juan Islands.
Five times to Lummi Island now and I've yet to see whales but I've always had gorgeous sunsets. I'll take it!

All photos from Willows Inn 2017 here and Lummi Island 2018 here.

Stationed in Siem Reap

Trip date: January 2018 Like most travellers who come to Cambodia to explore the temples of Angkor, we based ourselves in Siem Reap for 4-...

Popular Posts