PORTLAND DAY 1
We booked our flights about 2 months ago knowing that we would visit Portland strictly for the intake of deliciously legendary food. I don’t know about you and your girlfriends but I know my girls are the forever type because we can all strangely agree on traveling primarily to grub. I mean, we could have said “We want to get away” but no, we wanted to EAT. The news of Portland’s mystical food joints only increased as we would see features of them on Food Network and hear about it from people who have visited in the past. Oh Pok Pok chicken? Foie at Le Pigeon? I want that. In my mouf. Like, yesterday. We all knew that we would come into this trip with a hunger of a woman in her second trimester, and leave with happy hearts. Hearts as in fat bellies. Ah. Portland. Cheers to your lush green land and happy people. Cheers to your fresh air and fresh culinary ideas. A weekend in Portland was not enough but the memories will last forever. Gals, this post is for you – for the forever kind.
DAY 1 FRIDAY
I arrived in PDX about noon from a smooth flight with Southwest Airlines (Thank you, Southwest!) and my girls Stephanie and Christanne (Stanne) were already in front of the arrivals section of the airport. They had enjoyed breakfast and some quick touring around the city as they arrived in the early morning. First stop together was Lardo. Lardo is known for their flavorful sandwiches, burgers and dirty fries. As planned, each girl would order one dish from the menu and we would just take a bite out of each dish. I ordered the Porchetta sandwich, Steph the Bahn Mi, and Stanne the Dirty Fries. Out of all the dishes I think my sandwich was the winner in flavor. Everything about the Porchetta sandwich was delicious – the fresh bread, the fatty porchetta, and (my favorite) the caper mayo. It added a pesto-like taste to the sandwich that I couldn’t quite get in the beginning but it was just delicious! The flavor was so unique and robust I still remember it until today.
Nong’s and Food Pods
Portland on that Friday afternoon was, dare I say, eerily quiet. I don’t know why it crossed my mind and I kept saying it to my girls how you can SEE the bustle but you couldn’t HEAR the bustle. Pedestrians walking, pigeons flying, skateboarders at the park. I can see it all but it seemed so quiet. No firetrucks or airplanes or cars honking. And to know that it was a Friday afternoon, I was expecting MORE. Nonetheless, it was a pleasantly different and peaceful environment to enjoy my second dish out at a park: Nong’s (Khao Man Gai). Within 1 hour of consuming Lardo, mind you. We bumped into Nong’s food station because our car was parked right outside. We decided to explore the perimeter of the food pod. The recognition was quick as I heard of Nong’s from Food Network and she was there in the front serving her chicken and rice. She was very humble in her red beanie, dressed in a tank which flashed her tattoo sleeve, and spoke very softly during our quick transaction. I said hello, paid a compliment, bought her chicken and rice dish and swiped my card all under 3 minutes. The chicken and rice dish was double-wrapped in a paper parcel. You’re supposed to eat it with the spicy paste, ginger sauce and ginger soup while holding the paper parcel in your hand. If you’re lucky, which is what we were, you would be able to eat at the park across the way with your friends so that way you can each take turns eating while the other girl shoos away the inquisitive pigeons. It was good. It reminded me of home and it was a pleasant welcome during the cool afternoon in PDX. In fact it tastes just like the filipino dish Tinola. I would go back again but this time order double chicken skin. Mmm.
One characteristic about Portland is its food pods. Pods are groups of food trucks or vendors located on a street block or corner. They are everywhere in Portland. Downtown has a couple of food pods while the surrounding neighborhoods have smaller pods that are nestled in between houses. They are the charms of Portland and the center for foodies and hungries. I like food pods because they are never pretentious in any way. I’ll talk more about these pods through out these posts.
Oneonta Gorge and How to Reach the Trailhead
So for this trip the girls all agreed to pick their number 1 spot they want to visit in Portland. This was Stanne’s. She’s been to PDX before but wasn’t able to explore the greener parts. We hit Oneonta Gorge which was about a 30 minute drive east of downtown in the middle of the afternoon. We were afraid it was going to rain or get dark early so we were in a rush to fit this hike into our schedule. When we arrived, we were able to park our cars on the street. There is a railroad track on the outer side of the street and you need to walk through a short tunnel to be right on the bridge where the trailhead is. When you see the bridge, you’re already at the start of the trailhead. You’ll see the beginnings of a creek underneath the bridge. Walk to the right side of the bridge and you’ll see concrete steps leading you down under the bridge. Once you’re down, you’ll see a stream of water, rocks, and logs. Just follow where the water is coming from – at least, that’s what I told myself. The only other hint was there were sounds of people ahead of us. We followed other traces we could follow: footsteps in the mud, treaded pathway, and a fallen tree. As we walked through the bushes, we saw that people were headed in the direction upstream. Then we saw the entrance: a log jam and a narrow entry way which looked like the picture of a gorge I had seen through Google-ing Oneonta Gorge. This was IT. As we walked closer to the jam, we saw hikers walking back to the bridge with water marks lined all the way up to their chest. We already knew without asking that we would get a little wet on this trip. Also, as we reached the front of the massive log jam, we felt a sense of retreat. The log jam was huge. It looked like a 20 feet puzzle we had to walk over. It was wet, slippery and dangerous. It was like the fourth and last challenge before reaching the Grail (Some Indiana Jones for ya. heh.) It was massive and intimidating but we knew we had to overcome it to get to the goods: the Gorge.
One by one we climbed the massive logs. We crept up the cracks and planks that made the challenge of the jam. There was one part of the jam that led us to the tallest peak. We hesitated to proceed by climbing over the logs but instead we climbed underneath. Here are some hints: Use the “stay low” method, the “tripod” method, and don’t pretend like you’re Spiderman because the fall will lead you to sharp logs on the bottom. Dangerous. Once you’ve past the log jam, it’s nothing but beauty from here on out. Your feet will get wet as the first steps are already in water through rocks. You’ll see hues of all sorts of the green spectrum from the flora on the stone walls of the gorge. As you keep walking, you’ll hit parts where the water will reach your ankle or parts that will hit your knees. Be prepared and most importantly, just enjoy it. As we got closer to the source of the stream, the water level became higher as some parts hit our thigh. The last wet challenge is a dip where the water reaches your chest. You can pass this part one of two ways: swim through the deep water with your carry-on held above your head. Or you can carefully climb the wall of rocks on the right side. The latter option will eventually lead you into the water anyway. And this is where I stopped. Stephanie was the only one who reached the waterfall at the end. According to her description and her videos the waterfall was tall and beautiful. If I could do it over again I would bring a packed lunch and have a quick sandwich there. The hike was short and challenging but truly a unique experience of Oregon. It was a perfect piece of Oregon that I will never forget. Magical!
The Legendary Pok Pok and Salt & Straw
So after our beautiful hike and after we burned off half of our meal at Lardo, we were ready to carb-load again. We decided to cross off my number one place of Portland: Pok Pok. When we got to Pok Pok it was about 7pm and we were greeted with a frank “It’ll be a 2 hour wait.” by the pretty hostess. Drats. Well, luckily we had called the restaurant 30 minutes before to order their legendary Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings to-go. Booya! Thinking ahead here. I just wanted to try the wings and since eating was the reason of our trip, the girls were always down to sit at a quiet spot and eat picnic-style. And that we did. The wings were BOMB. Large in size, these were actual chicken wings and not drummettes from your typical BWW. There were 6 pieces total so we each had two massive wings to dirty our faces with. We ate at a planter in front of Salt and Straw (next destination on our hit list) with no shame. The night was cool and it was slightly drizzling from the residual rain cloud of the day before. People were at the planter with us that night but we, however, were straight grubbing on the sticky, salty, and spicy wings. Gangsta! The wings were just how I described it with a robust flavor of garlic, spice, and sugar. The skin was crispy and sticky. The sticky stuck the spice on your tastebuds so that way you can engage the memory into longterm. Get me? I swear, it was the best. Steph started a debate on whether these wings were better than San Francisco’s San Tung Wings. And as we ended the slightly biased conversation (lol), we all agreed – like a bunch of amateur food critics – that Pok Pok was in a division of its own.
Salt & Straw was whole ‘nother animal, though. Salt and Straw is the best ice cream I have ever enjoyed. EVER. and I say this with the pride of a Portlandian. I’ve tried OC’s nitro-induced Creamistry. I’ve tried LA’s Milk and Sweet Creamery. I’ve tried San Francisco’s BiRite and Smitten’s and Salt and Straw wins by a large margin. Here’s the breakdown:
- Flavors: The flavors at Salt&Straw were fearless. It’s as if they rolled dice with ingredients as the numbers and decided the flavor combinations by what was facing up. If you’re going to even say “But do they have salted caramel?”, you need to get the fuck out. You’re officially obsolete. Your taste palette is uncool. Anyway, When you reach the front of the ice cream assembly line you are greeted by a happy worker with the loaded question “Would you like to sample any of our ice creams?” This is the part when you say “HECK YES! I WANT TO TRY EVERYTHING!” … but only in your mind. At this point I was in such awe and borderline confusion of all the combinations. The most interesting combinations tasted served as the best and most unforgettable. I had – don’t judge – these samples: pear and blue cheese, fresh oregon peaches and walnuts, Stumpton Coffee and bourbon, Honey and Lavender, Chocolate and Almond brittle, and a root beer float. The winner for night 1: Pear and Bleu Cheese. It was divine. Who came up with this? Nobel Peace Prize pronto.
- Cone: I’m a cone judge. I’m the type that would push for double cone instead of double scoops. The cone at Salt and Straw was perfect because it wasn’t too sweet. Cones in LA from Milk and Sweet Creamery are too sweet, totally eclipsing the fresh flavors of the ice cream. The cone at S&S was just perfect. Thick and fresh in crunchiness. And the smell of freshly ironed cones hits you and lures you from a block away and, alas, you find yourself at the end of a 30-person line. Its like Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland but this time its for real and organic.
- Grub at food pods are just as amazing as restaurant food.
- Oregon is so beautiful with its lush greenery. Get lost and take advantage.
- Salt&Straw is king.