Written and Photographed by Karen Loftus
If serious about food induced tours or highly spirited itineraries with wine soaked schedules, you’ll need to book a travel play date in Bill Gates’ backyard. This season head to the Pacific Northwest to Seattle and sister city Portland where farm to table and locally sourced has long been a given, not a new found fad. These cities are serious about food and committed to local wines, distilleries, craft brews and their cocktail culture. This is as foodie and cocktail driven a scene as you’ll find in New Orleans with less heat and more rain and as bar star and chef driven as New York, where you get the best bites and booze for a fraction of the Manhattan price. So dig in…
Driving from Seattle to Portland with my Seattle-based mate was a bit of an homage to the 90’s. He’s always been obsessed with Mariah and I a bit of Madonna wanna. Like a vintage VJ, he dissected every M & M song on the ride in, while I shimmied to the dashboard. In between beats, he gave me the low down on “Portlandia,” the new TV show about Portland, its inability to let go of the 90’s, and their obsession with putting a bird on it. And so the scene was set.
A Quick Tipple
After a quick check-in to the uber chic Nines (not Nineties) Hotel, in downtown Portland, we set out to explore Portland’s forks, corks and cocktails. Our official culinary and cocktail tour kicked off the next morn, but we started by shooting from the liquid hip that night. I ran to Clyde Common, home of the famed Barrel Aged Cocktails. It was the first libation I wanted to touch my lips in Portlandia. At the bar we were privy to a Barrel aged Manhattan and locals as serious about sipping as we were. I love the 90’s! Clyde common’s Bar Manager and Liquid Luminary Jeffrey Morganthaler put this process on the map. Just as individual spirits are barrel aged to perfection, Morganthaler pushed the classic cocktail envelope by barrel aging the complete cocktail, a Manhattan in this case in Madeira (oak) casks. After a few runs, he found five-to-six weeks to be the sweet spot.
The finished product is a Manhattan with a soft and sensual finish with hints of smoke, caramel, char and wine. I topped my Manhattan with his Bourbon Renewal cocktail, which I’m still thinking about. It’s by far one of my favorite cocktails evah.
Portland Puts an Egg on it
Monday morn, we were ready to embark on a 24-hour booze-infused foodie fest. We popped across town to Tasty n Sons, which opens at 9 am for breakfast, usually with heaving lines on weekends. We realized then that many things in Portland not only have a bird, but an egg on it, especially at Tasty’s where dishes are topped with the almighty egg. We started with chocolate doughnuts with crème anglaise, which were so good we wanted to slap everyone in the restaurant. Insane! One small bite is so full of flavor. That and coffee would have done me. As if… My main was the Polenta and Sausage Ragu with Mozzarella with, you guessed it, a fried egg on it. How my heart didn’t stop mid-meal is a miracle. It was the dish to have.
On our way back into town we stopped at Cascade Brewing and Barrel House. Our noses were pressed against their brewery window at 11 am, awaiting opening. My “I’m not into beer” buddy quickly changed his beverage tune once he dipped in to their sours, which change flavors seasonally and are served straight from the barrel. They sat us down for a flight of 10. Their fruit driven sours were standouts; Cascade’s Apricot based on a Belgian Tripel and the Cascade Kriek, a NW style sour red ale fermented with fresh whole Bing and sour pie cherries were two faves.
It’s a Bird
We beat the culinary crowds with a reso at Little Bird, a French inspired bistro and sister resto to famed Le Pigeon in town. Rumor has it that Pigeon would make x amount of their burgers per day. Once done, that was it. No more. Customers would fight to be one of the first in to get their burger. It’s is now served at Little Bird. So, I went for the Le Pigeon Burger with asparagus with a friend egg on it (yup) and the potted duck liver to start.
tears of a Cocktail Clown
Naturally a bit thirsty after all the eggs activity, we nipped in to the Teardrop Lounge before dinner. This would be my go-to if I lived in town. It’s one of the best cocktail bars you will ever experience anywhere. There’s a definitive nod to the classics, yet incredible creativity with their House Cocktails. This summer was all about their Pina Coladas, which I haven’t had since I started drinking. I went along with the sexy bartender’s subtle suggestion and was completely blown away by the flavor. It’s a true sign of excellence when something so simple is so sublime. Menus change seasonally. So, if in this fall/winter, try The Need for Tweed with scotch, Cynar, malted pumpkin, chocolate and chipotle bitters and Absinthe.
I had to be dragged out of Teardrop. Yet dinner at Gruner, which means greener in German, was hardly a concession as they celebrate the Pacific Northwest’s bounty. We started with an exceptional foie gras torchon made with Riesling jelly and pickled cherries. Opting for family style in order to play the culinary field, it was a feast of polenta croquettes with raclette cheese, a Gruner salad, charcuterie and a mix of house made sausages and Hungarian style chicken. Exceptional. www.grunerpdx.com
Celebrating the fact that our hearts were still beating, we tippled back at Gruner’s newly opened KASK bar next door. The Prospector cocktail won our hearts over with Lairds Applejack, lemon, clover honey, sparkling wine and angostura bitters. Good to the last drop, no egg necessary.
The Farmer and His Wine
Once back in Seattle we opted for a revisit of a previous fave, Seattle’s Herbfarm, which is a celebration of the area’s food and wine. If you want to learn about Washington wine there’s no better way to tackle your studies than to indulge in this AA Five Diamond’s, nine course, themed meal (ours was basil) with 5 to 6 Pacific Northwest wines brilliantly paired throughout. Be sure to arrive early as proprietor Ron Zimmerman’s wine cellar is museum and wine worthy with over 1000 Washington wines. With champagne cocktails in hand you go from cellar to tour and history of garden and herbs by wife Carrie. Then it’s show time. It’s theater for the foodie savvy soul.
A Food For All Seasons
I finished my visit at Art Restaurant Four Seasons. It’s by far the city’s best hotel. We settled into our seats just as the red-orange sun (yes it was sunny in Seattle) was setting over the water before us in the big bay window. Clearly this was the epicenter of Seattle lifestyle as the silhouette of a power couple sat down shortly thereafter. Yes, it was Bill and Melinda Gates, but a few feet away. Bill got busy with his reds (I loved him even more for that) while we bathed in their cocktail menu, which has a market section inspired by Seattle’s Pike Place, the oldest farmer’s market in the US and right next door to The Four Seasons.
The menu, true to form, is seasonal. We had gorgeous Watermelon Saketinis made with sake, fresh watermelon juice and their house-made Limoncello, the perfect summer drink with a balance of detox and retox. On the opposite side of the cocktail fence was their savory signature showpiece, The Seattle Steam made with Basil Haden’s, House-made Sour, Lagavulin Scotch, Dubonnet and a finished with a sea salt rim. A must!
We started with fresh succulent six Juna de Fuca Oysters with flavored vinegars, followed by delicate Dungeness Crab Cannelloni and a Clam Chowder with pancetta and olive oil that blew us away. The Miso Baked Alaskan Black Cod and Oregon Lamb Done Three Ways was stunning. The vanilla bean dusted Donut Holes with Fruit Compote had us all but high fiving Bill and Melinda. It was a flawless finish to the foodie fest.