Liq­uid As­sets

DINE and Destinations - - PORTLAND - By Adam Wax­man

Heat­ing a build­ing with a pizza oven; so­lar-pow­ered trash com­pactors; elec­tric car-charg­ing sta­tions; and end­less green spa­ces make Port­land one of the most in­no­va­tive and “green­est” ci­ties in the world. It is also a food lover’s dream come true: the bounty of pro­duce makes it a mag­net for chefs who de­ter­mine their menus only mo­ments be­fore din­ner, fol­low­ing a day of for­ag­ing for their in­gre­di­ents. Port­land is also an oa­sis of bev­er­ages from beer, wine and spir­its to cof­fee and tea.

Ore­gon is a re­gion of fresh hops, so it’s no sur­prise that there are more brew­pubs in Port­land than in any other city on the planet; add to that two “happy hours” per day, and the largest brew­ers fes­ti­val in North Amer­ica, and it’s ob­vi­ous why Port­land is re­ferred to as “Beer­vana.” Rogue Ales has 38 beers on tap, but it’s the creamy Shake­speare Oat­meal Stout—with its earthy, choco­laty notes—that has me recit­ing son­nets. The lead­ing pro­ducer of pre­mium-grade sake in North Amer­ica is Ore­gon’s Sakéone, dis­tin­guished by the koji they bring in from Ja­pan that is paired with the clar­ity of the lo­cal wa­ter. Our sake sen­sei leads us through flights of chilled craft sakes, some flavour-in­fused with co­conut and lemon­grass, and in­structs how to taste and with which snacks to pair.

Be­tween the Coastal and Cas­cade moun­tain ranges, heavy rains nour­ish rich soils and en­able beau­ti­fully acidic, soft and el­e­gant wines like Pinot noir, for which Ore­gon is renown. Rex Hill Vine­yards’ 2007 Dundee Hills Pinot noir is rich and aro­matic, like a baked cherry pie with roses and woodsy spices. Sokol Blosser, a pi­o­neer in the or­ganic move­ment, blends their pop­u­lar Evo­lu­tion wines in red and white. Nine grapes are har­mo­niously blended for a smooth, trop­i­cal fruit-for­ward white wine with ver­sa­til­ity.

Port­land is sec­ond only to Seat­tle in its num­ber of cof­fee houses. Qual­i­ty­driven roast­ers have fu­elled high ex­pec­ta­tions here. At a tu­tored cup­ping and tast­ing at Stump­town Cof­fee Roast­ers, we prac­tice “palate cal­is­then­ics,” sniff­ing and sip­ping from a di­verse range of va­ri­etals. Within the Port­land cof­fee cul­ture there is an em­pha­sis on ed­u­ca­tion and re­la­tion­ships: lo­cals know their baris­tas, baris­tas know their roast­ers, and roast­ers know their farm­ers. En­ter­ing the Steven Smith Tea­maker Teashop, we smell mint, and im­me­di­ately rec­og­nize this is the work­shop of a tea mas­ter. “If I want to take some bam­boo leaves and fresh ginger, I grate it into a ket­tle of fil­tered wa­ter, cook and add a cou­ple more in­gre­di­ents,” says Smith, “I can do that.” Smith, founder of the renowned Tazo teas, fo­cuses on blend­ing fresh in­gre­di­ents and a sense of hu­mour. Our tast­ing of flights is like a sooth­ing ge­og­ra­phy les­son through the world of tea. Port­land is steeped in tea­houses that of­fer mel­low hide­aways like the Tao of Tea within the down­town Chi­nese Gar­den’s Tower of Cos­mic Re­flec­tions. We could be for­given for think­ing we had crossed through a por­tal into China. Tea selec­tions, along with snacks like tea eggs mar­bled in soy sauce, star anise and pine-smoked tea, change with the sea­sons.

Wel­come to Port­land—the bev­er­age mecca of the United States.

The “Food Pods” scene is huge. I nav­i­gate through whole city blocks lined with Thai, Bos­nian, Ja­panese, Cuban, Ger­man and Scot­tish food trucks manned by both as­pir­ing and re­tir­ing chefs. Wait­ing in line for close to an hour for a dough­nut in “the crotch” of the city, is worth the wait to say, “I got VD in Port­land.” Voodoo Dough­nuts has be­come a renowned in­sti­tu­tion. The Maple Ba­con Bar is cov­ered in maple frost­ing and strips of ba­con. The Mem­phis Mafia dough­nut is chock-full of ba­nana chunks, cin­na­mon, choco­late frost­ing, peanut but­ter, peanuts and choco­late chips. The prize, how­ever, is the Voodoo Doll Dough­nut©. Filled with rasp­berry jelly, this choco­late-frosted fig­ure comes with a pret­zel staked in its heart.

The Old St. Fran­cis School, a 1936 Catholic school­house turned pub, brew­ery, bak­ery, movie the­atre, soak­ing pool and ho­tel, is my abode for the evening. Awak­ing in the mid­dle of the night in a class­room feels like a night­mare, but my queen-sized bed in front of the chalk­board is ac­tu­ally very com­fort­able, and I fall right back to sleep in class…like so many times be­fore. “Keep Port­land Weird,” blares a large down­town sign. The city whose name was de­ter­mined by a coin toss be­tween two part­ners has suc­ceeded in do­ing so in a very good way.

“I be­lieve that if ever I had to prac­tice can­ni­bal­ism, I might man­age if there were enough tar­ragon around.”

—Port­land Chef, James Beard

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