My husband and I spent a delightful weekend in Portland, dodging showers and chasing sunbreaks. Through conversations with friends, restaurateurs and merchants, we learned why so many people love Portland.
It’s a place of passionate pursuits: outdoor sports (no matter the weather), cycling, arts and crafts, wine tasting, farm-to-table dining, and hours spent browsing books at Powells. When people discover you’re an out-of-town visitor, they can’t wait to share what they love most about Portland. Friendly conversations abound.
Knowing we’d entered Portlandia, we weren’t surprised to see this Lululemon van just off the main drag. Lulu is a brand well-known for its manifestos urging people to do what they love.
We figured out why we’d seen the Lulu runners’ van, a few hours later, while watching costumed Oregonians cross the finish line on one of the main downtown streets.
Dressed in comedic or outlandish costumes, entire families were competing in a mixed 5K/10K/half-marathon race.
Asian Design Influences
I loved the tastes, aromas and zen-like ambiance of the Japanese tea and coffee shop, Behind the Museum Café.
Espresso-style coffee is also available for die-hard coffee lovers, using beans roasted locally in Portland.
This café specializes in Japanese teas, small plates and desserts. One of its charms is the display of antique furniture and ceramics that can be purchased from a dealer who shares space with the café owner.
Another is the kimono dress and tradition-based courtesies of the owner and her wait staff, who warmly greeted my friend Margie in Japanese.
Foods and desserts are all homemade, Japanese style, such as shortbread with ginger. Some are new to Western palates, such as the matcha brownies that Margie bravely tasted (the small green cubes in the photo).
Do What You Love
While sipping her tea, my friend Margie shared what she’s been doing since we worked together 10 years ago. Margie gave up an executive role at a well-known PR firm to become a self-employed designer. You can see (and buy) her products online at Sweet Persimmon.
She creates handmade leather bags and totes that she adorns with scraps of silk or linen from her collection of antique kimonos. She is also a teacher of classic Japanese tea ceremonies, a sensibility that infuses her designs.
Margie had just returned from a 2‑week business trip to Tuscany, where she researched leather handbags in places like Florence where leather goods have been perfected over centuries of craftsmanship. Her latest collection should be available in mid-November. I can’t wait to see how the Italian designs influence her handbags… Leather, kimono silk and Italy — what an intriguing combination!
Treats for Wine Lovers and Locavores
Before dinner Bruce and I treated ourselves to some fine local pinot noirs at a specialty wine bar on Broadway. He went for the premium flight: small pours of three wines that were “drinking splendidly” that afternoon. I opted for a glass of wine, relying on the bartender to serve some wine that would match my description of what I like in a fine pinot noir. With just two tries, she got it just right.
Thanks to OpenTable and preplanning, we enjoyed two top-notch restaurants, Beast and D.O.C., considered among Portland’s finest. Both restaurants more than lived up to their well-deserved reputations for fine dining, based on absolutely fresh local ingredients and imaginative cuisine. In both cases we opted for the tasting menus, including the matched wines — a wonderful way to see how the chefs and wine stewards combined their magic. Both restaurants are tiny, so advance reservations are required.
You enter D.O.C. by passing through the kitchen en route to a handful of tables just beyond. On a cold and rainy night, the warmth from the stove is well appreciated as you wait for your table to be ready.
But the real treat is to put yourselves in the hands of the chef and wine steward — go for their tasting menu!
Funky Crafts, Charming Shops
Yes, there are lots of brand-name chain stores in Portland, but there are also local treasures such as Powells Bookstore. We spent several enchanted hours there, and felt lucky to leave with a bag of books that cost <$100. (We could easily have done more damage to our wallet.)
We were charmed by the funky shop windows of boutiques like this one, which happened to specialize in photography and mosaics (who knows why).
This boutique is down the street from a vintage consignment store, currently featuring costumes…
Well-heeled shoppers can revel in The Real Mother Goose, a high-end crafts store that caters to discerning tastes and people who love “fine American crafts.” We couldn’t resist, and found ourselves fantasizing about some beautifully designed rocking chairs, tables and lamps. Sadly, well beyond our budgets…
All in all Portland is a place for the pursuit of passions.