I know the whole “sister city” concept is meant to bridge different cultures and countries that share a common thread. In fact, I was pretty active in the Seattle-Nantes Sister City Association back in college. But in reality those civic relationships seem more cousin-like than sisterly. Particularly after thinking recently about the great synergy that Seattle and Portland share. The two cities exhibit a lot of those sibling characteristics: similar physical features, common history, similar wardrobe (and kitchen pantry, for that matter), but with distinct personalities and the occasional dose of sibling rivalry and jealousy. Ultimately, there’s a casual ease about exchange between the two cities, like dropping in to my sister’s house and helping myself to a glass of wine, rather than waiting to be asked!
I’ve had occasion to pop down to Portland a few times in the past year or so. And I haven’t driven in probably a decade. I’m a HUGE fan of the Amtrak Cascades service between Seattle and Portland (and Seattle and Vancouver, BC for that matter). Very relaxing, incredibly scenic, they show a current film (Wall-E last trip), serve you hot coffee and a full menu. And the station in Portland is central enough I usually toss my small bag over my shoulder and just walk into downtown to check into a hotel or meet up with a friend.
A few highlights from recent trips to Portland include lunches at Clyde Common and Park Kitchen, cocktails at Ten 01 and Teardrop Lounge, and dinners at Nostrana and Le Pigeon. I grabbed an amazing bagel with scallion cream cheese from Kenny & Zuke’s for the train trip home; still haven’t sat down for one of their celebrated pastrami sandwiches yet.
I killed some spare time one morning taking advantage of the free wi-fi at Sip & Kranz in the Pearl District. Great coffee shop, particularly since they have a nice mom-and-kids area near the entrance, so the other end of the room tends to be quiet. Needing a little snack, I ordered what I thought was going to be a simple panini with a schmear of Nutella in it; I apparently, instead, ordered the panini that has Nutella, banana and marshmallow cream. Heavens to Betsy, that was decadent, gooey and delicious. And about the worst thing to be nibbling on while trying to work on a laptop. I ended up asking for a few wet paper towels to keep my fingertips tidy.
I’m sorry Portland isn’t a bit closer when I get emails from Steve’s Cheese in Northwest Portland. This tiny, glorious cheese shop is tucked toward the back of the Square Deal Wine Shop— such a perfect retail marriage. I would love to have been at their Anniversary Party a few weeks ago, complete with oozy-delicious raclette.
And if I were able, I’d be at next weekend’s House Spirits Third Annual Booze Bazaar. On Saturday, December 13 from 1:00 to 5:00 (21 and over only), they’ll be sampling and selling their own products, including Aviation Gin, Medoyeff Vodka and Krogstad Aquavit (I can personally vouch for the deliciousness and finesse of all three). On hand will also be “a gaggle of other great vendors,” as their invitation states, including cheesemakers, other spirits and even bacon caramels from Xocolatl de David (wow).
I recently returned the favor to Portlanders for sharing their top spots with me, by contributing some favorite Seattle dishes in the current issue of Mixmagazine. Mix was launched a couple years ago by my good friend Martha Holmberg, who moved with her family from Connecticut to Portland a few years ago to become food editor at the Oregonian. It’s a really hip, arty, creative publication put out quarterly. A great new addition for the culinary cognoscenti of the region.