Friday, October 19, 2012

When in Portlandia...

You must brunch! Portland has a huge brunch culture. With a recommendation from Aaron's friend, we went to brunch at Urban Farmer Restaurant. Believe me, I was a little skeptical about brunch at a hotel restaurant, but that concern was quickly put to rest. We took the elevator up to the modern lobby, where the restaurant was situated in the well lit atrium. You would've never guessed that it was a gray, overcast day given all the natural light.

In recent years, I've come to recognize the importance of eating seasonally and locally for political, environmental, and culinary reasons. Like one of my Chicago favorites, Perennial Virant, I loved the display of canned jars that were incorporated into the decor. It's a sign that we'll be eating well.

While in the Pacific Northwest, I highly recommend eating as much Dungeness crab as possible. Given the crab omelet that I enjoyed in Anchorage, I wanted to try a different take on it. I'll have to give the nod to Anchorage for their crab omelet. Urban Farmer's version was a little rich for my taste, with an herbed hollandaise that overpowered the crab. The potato on the side was nicely crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside.

Another thing that sets Portland apart from Seattle and Vancouver is its love for meat. The cheddar bacon biscuit was quite thorough in covering multiple meat groups: a fluffy biscuit is studded with bacon and baked with cheddar on top. It is split in half and filled with a crispy chicken leg, greens, pickled red onions and a fried egg. For the final touch of decadence: the sandwich sits atop sausage gravy.

We somehow rolled out of the restaurant after our rich brunch and squeezed in some quick tax-free shopping before returning to Seattle. Even though we were only in Portland for less than 24 hours, we liked what we saw and vowed to return for a longer weekend.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Biwa: Late night dining

After a long day of driving along the Oregon Coast, we finally settled into our hotel for the evening. Portland is known for its foodie scene, and I had a difficult time choosing our dinner option for the night. Since the clock was ticking away, we opted to check out Biwa. We lucked out with a couple of front row seats at the bar providing a great view into the kitchen. The menu was quite expansive, and furthermore, since it was later into the evening, we could also order off the late night menu.

For regular readers of this blog, you probably will have noticed the lack of alcoholic drinks being profiled in my writing. I have an allergy to alcohol, which makes me get really hot and uncomfortable. Truthfully, it's quite annoying to explain this in social situations. I end being a cheap date for Aaron on most occasions, but sometimes a restaurant's non-alcoholic drinks will pique my interest. While in Portland, I often came across drinking vinegars for seltzer water. At Biwa, I went with the ume based on our server's recommendation. It's a pickling brine made from umeboshi plums. We munched on an amuse buche of spiced popcorn while we waited for our food to arrive.

We started with an order of gyoza since the wrapper was handmade, and we often forfeit our share to the kids at family gatherings. The wrapper was uniformly thin and crisply fried around the savory pork filling.
For our mains, we enjoyed the udon and ramen from the late night menu. Aaron has always been a fan of the more toothsome udon variety, especially when it is swimming in a rich spicy broth. For me, I've always had a soft spot for ramen, and no, not the ten cent Maruchan variety from your big box grocer!

 We wended the meal with miso butterscotch gelato from a local gelateria.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Voodoo Doughnut

Depending on who you ask, many might speculate that doughnuts have replaced cupcakes as the hottest bakery trend.A trip to Portland could not be complete without a trip to Voodoo Doughnut.

I tried to keep our order under control by keeping it to four doughnuts (clockwise):

mango tango: a yeast raised doughnut with a vibrant mango jelly filling, vanilla frosting, and a citrusy dusting of tang; verdict: a pleasant surprise

maple bacon long john: a yeast raised doughnut, strong maple presence in the frosting, overly crispy bacon; verdict: not as good as Dynamo Donut in SF

apple fritter: large and in charge, this apple studded fritter was well spiced with cinnamon, tender dough; verdict: solid

chocolate covered buttermilk: a standard doughnut for comparison between doughnut purveyors, not especially memorable

Monday, September 24, 2012

Vancouver: Guu Izakaya

With its geographic location on the West coast of North America, Vancouver is one of the most diverse cities that come to mind. This lends itself well to being rich in culinary delights. With the large population of Japanese, izakaya establishments are commonplace. There are a few major players in Vancouver, and some have multiple locations with slightly different personalities: Guu, Hapa, Zakkushi, and Kingyo. As you can imagine, it was not easy narrowing it down to just one, so we went to the Original Guu on Thurlow since it was withing walking distance of our hotel.

We left for an early dinner and took a detour to take in the surroundings of our area. An izakaya is a Japanese pub serving tapas style food. Not only is it about the food, but it's also about the lively, loud atmosphere. You can only imagine our surprised when we saw a dozen or so other people already waiting to enter fifteen minutes prior to the restaurant's opening time!

Once opening time had arrived, people were efficiently seated and servers began arriving at tables to take orders and yell them to the chefs! It is a bit intimidating at first, especially since English was not a strong suit for the staff, so you're left to your own devices.

Thankfully, our ordering skills did not disappoint! Our dishes arrived piping hot and fresh. They were beautifully prepared and tasted as good as they looked.

Saba shio: grilled mackeral with salt

kim chi fried rice

tontoro: grilled pork cheek with yuzu ponzu 

Yaki udon

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Vancouver: Meat & Bread

Six months in Seattle would not be completed without a visit from my parents. To make it worthwhile, we planned to drive up to Vancouver for Labor Day weekend so that they could spend a few days during the week with their friends. Crossing the border on a holiday weekend is not a quick and easy process. By the time we reached city center, we were famished. I had already planned to hit Meat & Bread for their popular porchetta sandwich. Thankfully, it did not disappoint. In fact, my mom proclaimed it to be the best sandwich she ever had. The ciabatta was fresh, with a light and chewy crumb. The porchetta was flavorful and had the right amount of fattiness. A squeeze of yellow mustard was served on the side for dipping. We added a meatball sandwich to share, but another porchetta sandwich would've probably been the better way to go.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Onto Seward

After our tram ride, we continued onward to Seward. We decided to take a quick detour to stop in Whittier, what an unusual town! We had to pay $12 for the one lane tunnel into town. The tunnel goes into town on the hour, and leaves town on the half hour. If you don't time it right, you'll have to wait until the next opportunity!

The entire town lives in an old building used for barracks and officers' housing from WWII! Aaron read about some amazing views from the building. We wandered in as if we knew where we were going. I'm sure we stood out like sore thumbs in this small town. Once we arrived at the top floor, it was quite obvious that there was not going to be a viewpoint at all. We scurried out before anyone inquired about our intent.

There's even a couple of documentaries about the "strange town." We met the reindeer lady outside her store as we were walking through the "town center."

Once we finally reach Seward, we spent some time in the Alaska Sealife Center. A portion of the settlement after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill was used to build the research and rehabilitation Sealife Center.

After the Sealife Center, we wanted to hit Exit Glacier. En route to the visitor center, there are several markers along the way showing how much the glacier has retreated over the years due to changes in the world climate. Seeing the human impact on nature like this really makes one think twice about our daily habits.
The next day, we had a tour booked through Kenai Fjords tours to take us to Northwestern Glacier, which happens to be named after my alma mater! I'd never been on a whale watching boat tour, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. I had always heard that Alaska was teeming with wildlife, but this tour surpassed my wildest expectations. I was a little worried about being bored on a 9 hour tour, but time flew by! We saw orca pods, humpback whales, sea otters (my personal favorite), puffins, seals, seal lions, and more!

After our tour, we grabbed a quick dinner at Chinooks before hitting the road back to Anchorage for the night. The halibut fish and chips were beer battered, which is my favorite for fish.
 On the docks, you can see the fisherman processing the day's catch. It was quite amazing to see the various sizes.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Breakfast in Girdwood

We packed rather light for our long weekend in Alaska, so after our jeans got covered in mud from our hike, we decided to do some laundry in town before heading onward. While our clothes were in the washer, we enjoyed breakfast at the Bake Shop. Our timing was perfect because as soon as we sat down, a huge tour bus dropped off 30+ people! 

We ordered the Sweet Roll to go, so that we could enjoy it during our drive later in the day.  Rather than just a cinnamon sugar filling, these rolls had a fruity swirl and a huge pat of softened butter on the side.

 They have a few egg scrambles and omelets on the menu, but I prefer to order something that I can't easily recreate at home. We each ordered three sourdough pancakes. They were thin and huge with that sourdough tang. If you're looking for a carby start to your day, be sure to check out the Bake Shop.
After finishing our laundry, we returned to our hotel to take the tram up to the mountain top. The views were breath taking.