I wanted to love Oregon. And Portland too. I came back with more than expected. I now have new friends to visit–always lovely. Hikes to take. Road trips through the countryside to organize. And many more food experiences to have.
So I need to tell you how my latest trip to Portland in Oregon happened.
About three weeks ago, Travel Oregon invited me and a group of food and travel writers to come to Portland to experience the Oregonian food scene. They paid for everything. And although I was a guest during the entire trip, writing about Oregon and my trip was really left for me to decide.
It would have been difficult not to. I didn’t tell them with words–but maybe with smiles–but I was oh so pleased that they had thought of including me as I’ve always wanted to visit Portland and Oregon.
Over the course of the four days I spent in the city–as I added one extra day in the end to visit Lara, I had a ton of fun. I drank beautiful wines–sorry I am terrible with names–I ate scrumptious local food. I met delicious people and talented artisans. I visited inspiring outdoors havens. So yes! I want to share stories and images with you, because I sense that you’ll enjoy having a sneak peek of what it was like to be in Oregon in early September.
Thursday September 8th.
Or the day I taste Aviary restaurant food for the first time.
After an early morning flight with a small connection in Seattle, I finally arrive in Portland. Tired but happy. A taxi is waiting for me and two other friendly bloggers that I meet for the first time–even if I know them by name. The virtual world is meeting the real one, an aspect of what I do that I love above all. We smile and chat, and the tone of our conversation shows that we clearly feel the same way: we are oh so glad to be there. The weather is gorgeous. Sunny. Blue skies. It’s even unusually warm for Portland, as we are told.
It’s as if the city knows that we are here to observe and take notes.
“It’s here,” our taxi driver says as he pulls his cab in front of hotel deLuxe, a modern-looking hotel where a young man dressed in a suit is waiting to help us with our luggage.
I realize that I actually like that feeling of being in a new place and let it happen without having to think or decide.
As I walk up the stairs inside, I catch sight of a large black and white photograph of a Hollywood movie scene displayed on the wall. It sets the tone. Hotel deLuxe is a downtown Portland hotel that combines art déco and art moderne styles with a unique Hollywood vibe.
And fairly quickly, we all meet. And start eating, drinking, talk about food and wine. For three entire days.
For our first evening, we are divided in small groups, with each group dining in a different restaurant across town. I am lucky to eat at Aviary‘s.
The story behind Aviary is touching. It’s one that inspires.
It’s the story of three chefs, Sarah Pliner, Jasper Shen, and Kat Whitehead, who grow tired of working in various top-notch restaurants in NYC. Together, they decide to move to Portland. Together, they decide to open Aviary.
Secretly, I am glad they did, as our dinner is sumptuous.
Set in the dining-room of Pine State Biscuits, we are served a private five-course menu. I love that the atmosphere is relaxed. That the vibe around our long dining table is friendly. And even if I feel completely jet-lagged, I cannot help but feel grateful for each beautiful dish brought to the table. The food is delicious and eye-catching. The chefs are passionate about what they do.
And it shows.
As the evening progresses, we quickly learn why we are dining at Pine State Biscuits. Jasper tells us about the recent fire that damaged their building, and how, in the spirit of the strong Portland community, other chefs like Kevin and Brian from Pine State biscuits decide to help by opening their kitchen to them. So that they can continue to cook while their space is being renovated. So that they stay connected with the food scene.
Hearing Jasper’s story is inspiring and refreshing.
Wine director Leah Moorhead pours us local wines, describing details of the body and color of each. Our menu focuses on creative foods made with the best local products the region has to offer. I find the combo ideal.
I am particularly smitten by the dish of slow poached egg with daikon and dates, and then the zucchini charlotte with bean ragout and smoked tomato consommé served with cucumber and dill that is almost too pretty to eat. The glazed black cod and milk braised veal that follow are equally spectacular. And the peach and moscato sorbet with cherries and almond emulsion sealing our meal is simply irresistible.
The expression I read on their faces and in their eyes tells me that they agree. It also tells me what I also think deep inside: “Clearly, Sarah, Kat and Jaspen know what they are doing“.
And as we leave the restaurant and are driven back to our hotel in taxis, I cannot help but envision already the next time. But then, I’d experience Jaspen, Kat and Sarah’s foods in their own restaurant space, with Lulu and P.
“You will love it!” I eventually write to P. later in my email to him that narrates my first dinner in Portland.
Friday September 9th is full of food and wine activities. It will come next.