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My Portland Summer Vacation Notes

Waterfall at Portland's Japanese Gardens

Hot on the heels of an awesome birthday week, which involved much fine dining and an incredibly awesome bowling night, we packed up and headed to Portland for a few days. This was both L's and my first visit to a city many folks had described to me as "a little San Francisco."

We flew in to PDX and picked up a rental car and headed to our hotel, the Ace. My primary criteria for choosing a place to stay in Portland was I wanted a quirky boutique hotel that had a distinctly Portland feel to it. Given the skewering the Ace received in the Portlandia episode The Deuce, I think I chose wisely. I was tempted by the Jupiter Hotel (home to the Doug Fir Lounge), but given my being a light sleeper and every review of the place commenting on the noise, that didn't seem like a wise choice. We'd been hoping to spend at least one night at the Kennedy School, based on my friend Adrienne's rave reviews, but they were booked up. As it turns out, Portland was in the midst of a 90-degree plus heatwave, so we were glad we'd ended up at the Ace, with its arctic blasts of air conditioning.

Before moving on, I should note that all of the rooms at the Ace are decorated individually, with some sort of theme. I was hoping we'd end up in the room with the huge cat mural that I saw on their website. But instead we ended up in Room 420.  It had a funny little poem stenciled across the walls...

Location-wise, I couldn't have done much better either. The hotel was located on the line between downtown and the Pearl districts, and only a short block from Powell's Books. This meant that there were tons of places to eat and shop located within a reasonable walk from our hotel, even with the oppressive heat.

I was actually a little worried about being so close to Powell's. Our tiny San Francisco apartment is overflowing with books already (this is hy I have been trying to make as many of my book purchases as possible these days on the Kindle.) With that in mind, as well as what we could easily find at the fabulous independent bookstores in SF, we focused our attention on the Gold Room, Powell's auditorium-sized Fantasy and SciFi books room. I am honestly not sure how many hours we spent primarily in this room. All I can say is after we were done here, it was time for beer and dinner, in that order. Somehow, we managed to make it out of there with only 4 books, ruling out others as being too heavy to carry around, available for check out at the library and so on. My two books were  The Player of Games (Culture) by Iain M. Banks, and My Favorite Fangs: The Story of the Von Trapp Family Vampires. by Alan Goldsher. Now, don't judge me on the latter-- I wanted some frothy fun vacation reading, and it delivered just that.

Welcome to the Beercation 

Deschutes Brewery Portland Public House Having checked the weather before we left home, and seeing how hot it was going to be, combined with my love for Pacific Northwest microbrewed beers, I informally dubbed this vacation our "Beercation." So where did we have our first sip? At one of my favorite craft brewers, Deschutes. (NOTE: San Francisco peeps you can usually find Deschutes on tap at Toronado.) Both the Chainbreaker White and the Twilight Summer Ales I tried were perfect for a hot Summer day, and went well with the seriously great pub food. And the decor and atmosphere made it hands down one of the most inviting brew pubs I've been in.I highly recommend starting with a plate of the deviled eggs -- you'll thank me later.

Our second brew pub of the trip was Rogue Ales' Distillery and Public House, also downtown and within walking distance of our hotel. We ended up doing sampler sets of 4, which had a creative presentation. I tried Dead guy ale, Cap'n Sig's Northwestern ale (my favorite), Youngers Special Bitter, and American Amber. My big disappointment here was that the Voodoo Donuts Bacon Maple Ale was not available for tasting, though you could buy it--and any other of the many Rogue Ales-- in the bottle to take home with you.

Our third and final brewbup of the trip was McMenamins pub at the Kennedy School. It was a friendly and inviting pub, with good beer and american pub food. What made the trek out there worthwhile was getting to see the Kennedy School itself. It's such an indescribable feeling to be wandering the halls of what quite clearly was a school, and sitting in the cafeteria, drinking beer, at midday. If we'd been staying longer, I would have loved to have tried out even more brewpubs, having received some excellent suggestions from #pdxbeergeeks via twitter.

artisanal cocktail at the bar at Clyde Common in PortlandThings to Do, Places at Which to Eat

WIth my focus on dealing with the hot weather being the overriding theme for this vacation, I didn't make any reservations for this trip. I'll pause here for a moment. That's right, for the first time in years, I didn't make even 1 night's plan for eating out at a foodie destination. I decided instead we should play things a little more by ear. And guess what? It worked out famously. And I still got to eat some truly remarkable meals.

I'd heard great things about Clyde Common, the restaurant directly off our hotel's lobby, and we made sure to sample a few cocktails here over the course of our stay, and enjoy a leisurely long dinner in the upstairs balcony.The cocktail menu is inspired, with a number of spectacular house creations including several barrel-aged cocktails, and a daily punch special. This place gets packed, making a long wait the usual, but the time flies by quickly with one of the cocktails in hand, snacking on the french fries with harissa and crème fraîche.

The meat slicer on the counter in front of the woodfired brick pizza oven at Oven and Shaker in Portland.Although we had a great dinner at Clyde Common, my favorite meal of the vacation was at Oven and Shaker, which had not been on our radar at all. We'd peeked in the windows and perused the menu one afternoon as we'd walked around downtown, and made a note of it in case we found ourselves in the mood for some pizza or cocktails, since both sounded solid from the descriptions. We found our way in here on a day that had been swelteringly hot, and the only seats available in the packed house was at the counter in front of the pizza oven. Despite some trepidation at the thought I might keel over from the added heat, we settled in and started watching the team make pizzas as we looked over the menu. We decided upon the antipasto and a pizza. When the antipasto arrived we were intrigued -- the salami, mozzarella, provolone, iceberg letter and radicchio were roughly shredded and assembled with the chickpeas and dressed with the wild oregano vinaigrette in a stack much like a large bowl of coleslaw upended. It was delicious -- a really fresh take on the antipasto platter. The superstar of the meal however was the pizza. It was wafer-thin, blistered, and topped with just the right amount of goat cheese, leeks, chives, basil, and speck. It was on par with the pizzas at A-16 here in SF. It's going to be the one place I tell everyone I know who plans a trip to Portland to make sure they check out.

Most of our breakfasts during the trip were ad hoc, including grabbing some toast and coffee at the hotel's breakfast room. But we did have a hearty American breakfast at Kenny & Zuke's in the same block as our hotel. Pop in and grab a bagel and have a nosh.

Our day trips included a drive over the border into Washington to visit the offices of an agency I collaborate with a ton at work (/waves at the aha! peeps), plus significant visits to the Japanese Garden and Multnomah Falls. The Falls you see at the top of this post are one of the waterfalls at the Japanese Gardens. The partially shaded gardens were an ideal place for a long walk (the gardens take up 5.5 acres) even with the heat. Of course it helped that I had a huge sunhat on and L gifted me a handmade paper fan from their artisan shop. The only complaint I had was being bummed that they do not have a tea house, unlike our Japanese Garden in Golden Gate Park.. But the scale and beauty of the gardens mostly made up for that.

Multnomah Falls was another must-see, and involved a 30-minute drive outside of the city. I was one of the slackers who didn't make it much farther than the lower falls viewing area btw -- the trail was a little too steep and vertigo-inducing for me. But L made it to the top, dodging insanely motivated people pushing strollers up the trail of a million (or perhaps only 13) switchbacks.

We also found time to literally chill out over a beer and enjoy the latest Oliver Stone film Savages at Living Room Theater. After the show, we sat in the dining room, with the floor-to-ceiling windows open onto the street, and a jazz trio playing.

Despite the unexpectedly Summery weather for our Pacific Northwest trip, I still got why everyone told me I'd like the place, and why everyone mentions there being "so many trees." I hope to find a good reason for a return visit.

Portland Resources

Ace Hotel Portland
http://www.acehotel.com/portland
1022 SW Stark St., Portand
 (503) 228-2277

Clyde Common
http://www.clydecommon.com/
1014 SW Stark St., Portland
(503) 228-3333
Open daily for dinner and other meals on selected days as noted on their website.

Deschutes Brewery Portland Public House
http://www.deschutesbrewery.com/locations/portland
210 NW 11th Ave., Portland
(503) 296-4906
Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-midnight

Kenny & Zuke's
http://www.kennyandzukes.com/
1038 SW Stark St, Portland
(503) 222-DELI (3354)
Open daily for breakfast and all day eats as noted on their website.

Living Room Theater Portland
http://pdx.livingroomtheaters.com/theater_tour.html
341 SW Tenth Avenue, Portland
(971) 222-2010
Hours and showtimes vary but box office opens at 11:30. Seats are assigned first purchased-first pick, so buy your tickerts in advance to ensure a good seat.

McMenamins pub at the Kennedy School
http://www.mcmenamins.com/797-courtyard-restaurant-home
5736 N.E. 33rd Ave., Portland
(503) 249-3983
Daily 7 a.m.-1 a.m.

Multnomah Falls
http://www.oregon.com/attractions/multnomah_falls
50000 Historic Columbia River Hwy, Corbett, OR
(503) 695-2376
Daily dawn-dusk

Oven and Shaker
http://ovenandshaker.com/
1134 NW Everett St., Portland
(503) 241-1600
Daily 11:30 a.m.-midnight

#pdxbeergeks
http://www.pdxbeergeeks.com/
Not sure what brew pubs should be on your must-visit list? This is the place to find out. Follow the hashtag on twitter, and check out the blog.

Portland Japanese Garden
http://japanesegarden.com/
11 SW Kingston Avenue, Portland
(503) 223-1321
Monday 12-7 p.m.
Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m.-7 p.m.

Powell's City of Books
http://www.powells.com/
1005 W Burnside
Portland, OR 97209
(503) 228-4651
Open daily 9:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m.

Rogue Distillery and Public House
http://rogue.com/locations/locations.php
1339 NW Flanders
Portland, OR 97209
(503) 222-5910
Sunday-Thursday: 11 a.m.-12 a.m.
Friday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-1 a.m.