Portland: It Really Grows on You

From Seattle, you can hop aboard an Amtrak train and be in Portland, Ore., in three, maybe four hours. It is a highly civilized experience from which Northeast Corridor sardine can riders have been unfairly excluded. (Leather seats, people! A movie! Conductors who don’t growl! Oh, and get this – just $56 roundtrip.)

We arrive at our destination rested and relaxed (imagine that) and use yet another civilized mode of transport, the Portland Street Car, to get to our hotel. It’s still before noon, so the hardened hotel traveler in me assumes there’s no chance of an early check in, but that’s okay, I am thinking, we’d like to stow our bags if you don’t mind. But Ms. O’Donnel, that won’t be necessary, says the front desk agent. Your room will be ready in five minutes.

You gotta be kidding me.

Welcome to Portland, folks. This is the city with the nice and livable genes, where people really do ride their bikes or walk to get around and talk to one another on the street. And the food scene, well, it doesn’t just keep growing, it is spilling out onto the sidewalks and into the collective consciousness of the citizenry. You know how people talk about eating their way through Paris? Well, Portland has become that kind of town. There are that many choices for eats and drinks.

The purpose of this trip was work first, eat second, but even without planning, we had ourselves a veritable food adventure. For Sunday brunch, we spun ‘round on the counter stools at Besaw’s, an old neighborhood joint where I tucked into one of the best plates of huevos rancheros I can remember.

Supper was early, well before sunset, and a friend who lives in town, suggested Clyde Common, where communal dining tables are more the exception than the rule. We shared table space with a Dutch businessman studying the business of espresso bars. Our favorite dish of the eve was a tie between the homemade papparadelle with a lamb sugo (that really came through on its promise of mint) and a simple arugula salad with a raw milk Spanish cheese, lemon and just the right amount of salt. Ever have raisin-sherry ice cream? It came with our chocolate cake.

A leisurely stroll in the neighborhood brought us to Ken’s Artisan Bakery, which would probably become my new favorite place if I moved to Portland. The neighbors were there, clucking away and catching up, but this was no ordinary coffee shop. This place is the real deal when it comes to traditional French bread and pastry. Something as simple as a jambon beurre on a baguette stuck with me until the return train ride, when I regretted not having bought one for the trip. But the Oregon croissant – well, there’s nothing quite like this lady, gorgeous flaky and layered, but filled with Oregon’s best blackberries, and I think, huckleberries!

That’s all the food we had time for, but now that I know about the too-good-to-true train ride, I’m goin' back down south real soon.

What’s Cooking has changed to a new time; join us this Tuesday and every Tuesday from now on at 1 ET.

By Kim ODonnel |  October 14, 2008; 8:00 AM ET Travel
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The Northwest Cascades Train is the best...the East Coast has nothing on it! Hopefully you got to see the strange hilly mounds near Olympia.

Posted by: Former Vancouverite in DC | October 14, 2008 8:35 AM

Next time you're down there, try Le Pigeon, and be sure to ask for a seat at the counter.

Posted by: Oregonian Transplant To DC | October 14, 2008 10:16 AM

Glad y'all are doing okay out there and enjoyed your visit to the greatest city on Earth. I'm no expert on Portland dining, but if you ever need recommendations for Olympia, let me know.

Posted by: Hopkins | October 14, 2008 11:51 AM

Shhh, don't tell anyone, they'll all move there! Truly, though, my sister lives in Portland and I'm all over it like a cheap suit. Enjoy!

Posted by: Reine de Saba | October 14, 2008 3:30 PM

We loved having you, Kim!

Posted by: Kim C. | October 14, 2008 7:26 PM

I'm so glad you liked Portland! Come down again sometime for the farmers' market at PSU before December (or the biweekly winter market on Sunday morning in the Hillsdale neighborhood). I second the Le Pigeon recommendation and would also urge trips to Paley's Place, the Country Cat, Lovely Hula Hands, and Pok Pok.

Posted by: Sheila | October 15, 2008 2:13 AM

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