Northwest Vacation Recap: Portland

We have just returned from a Northwest Adventure in Portland and Seattle, our first trip to the West Coast since our honeymoon (in 2014!) where we traveled to San Francisco and Sonoma. We look forward to telling you about our favorite activities and of course our favorite restaurants! First up, Portland!

Saturday

We arrived in Portland late Saturday night, tired from our flight but definitely ready to do some exploring. We were staying at an Airbnb in the North Mississippi/Williams neighborhood, a hip neighborhood in Northeast Portland bustling with nightlife. One of my friends had told me about Alibi Tiki Bar, a 1940s tiki bar that is still in existence today. Our impression is that it felt very “Portland” – quirky and laid-back. Basically, the complete opposite of life in the Northeast. We were starving, so we ate a little bit of food – I would describe it as vaguely American Chinese food. This may sound odd, but the original tiki bars served an American version of Chinese food, considered exotic in the 1930s.

Alibi Tiki Bar neon sign

Sunday

Portland is known for being the premier biking city in America, due to having decades of bike-friendly policies. It should be no surprise, then, that we mainly got around the city by Biketown bike, their bikesharing system. The orange bikes were lighter than Capital Bikeshare, plus they had a basket which made running errands easy. You can also dock Biketown bikes at any public bike dock, which is incredible.

Marnay on a Biketown bike in Portland

We biked across the Broadway Bridge and arrived at Ken’s Artisan Bakery. Ken’s is one of the best and most well-known bakeries in America. Of all things, we shared a locally made hot dog on an incredible baguette-like bun and some incredible macarons. A great way to start the morning in Portland.

Ken’s Artisan Bakery macarons

Portland has an aerial tram. It goes from a medical school and doctors offices to the corresponding hospital, on top of a hill. Still, it offered some incredible views of the Willamette River below and I’m glad we did it!

Portland aerial tram

 

Dinner that night was with one my old MARC train friend, Marcel, and his wife Martha. In June, Marcel moved to Portland from DC for work, so it was awesome to see them. We met at Tusk, a Middle-Eastern restaurant that Food & Wine Magazine recently named one of the best new restaurants in the country. All of the food was communal and it made a great way to catch up. All four of us agreed on a best bite: Melons, cucumbers, celtuce, pepper (hot!), cilantro and pepitas.

Tusk hummus with tehina, paprika and cumin

Tusk melons with cucumbers, celtuce, pepper, cilantro and pepita.

Marnay, Paul, Marcel and Martha at Tusk in Portland

It had been a long day, but we fit in some walking through the Laurelhurst neighborhood and a trip to Base Camp Brewing for a nightcap. A long but exciting day.

Monday

One requirement for Portland was that we needed to stay in an Airbnb that was walking distance to a Blue Star Donuts location and luckily we were two short blocks away from their Northeast Portland shop. We shared their signature Blueberry Bourbon Basil and their incredible Apple Fritter. So darn good!

Blue Star Donuts in Northeast Portland

Next, we headed to Portland’s Waterfront Trail, and biked along the Willamette River. We ended the ride by crossing the river over the Tilikum Crossing, the country’s first pedestrian and transit only bridge. It carries bikes, pedestrians, buses, light rail and streetcars. How amazing is that?!

Paul biking on the Tilikum Crossing bridge

That night, we had a nice bike ride through a few different neighborhoods en route to Han Oak, a Korean-inspired restaurant from chef Peter Cho. We were second in line, so we were able to sit at the chef’s counter right in front of the open kitchen. What a view! On Sunday and Monday nights, Han Oak has dumpling and noodle night. However, that night they had a guest chef cooking Indonesian Barbecue. Our best bite, and possibly the top bite in all of Portland, was the Indonesian Barbecue platter.

Han Oak dumplings

Han Oak Indonesian Barbecue

After dinner, we did some walking through nearby neighborhoods and then biked to Stormbreaker Brewing, just outside of our apartment. We stopped to pick up a growler so that we could enjoy it at home with the rest of our donuts. There wasn’t a TV, so we watched Portlandia on Netflix! Another fun night!

Blue Star Donuts, Stormbreaker Brewing growler and Portlandia on Netflix in our Airbnb in Portland

Tuesday

Tuesday was wine country day. But first, we had breakfast at Pop Bagel, a small bagel shop where all the bagels are pretzel bagels! It was a cool concept. The location, inside of an office building, made me jealous because my office building doesn’t have anything like this!

Pop Bagels

We took an Amtrak bus from Union Station to Salem, the capital of Oregon and our jumping off point for exploring the Willamette Valley. Once we arrived in Salem, we headed straight to Brooks Wine, Riesling specialists located in the Eola-Amity Hills subregion of the Willamette Valley. Before we left for Oregon, I read a wine column from a national columnist about wines to get for special occasions – one of the wines was from Brooks!

Brooks Wine vineyard

Brooks was incredible, the best winery we have ever been to. Since they specialize in white wines, we made sure to both get white wine tastings. Our favorites were the Sweet P Riesling (the one that was recommended in the column) and the Amycas, a blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Muscat, Gewurztraminer and Riesling. We came away with a bottle of each.

After Brooks, we headed to Domaine Drouhin, in the Dundee Hills subregion. The Drouhin family is originally from Burgundy, home of the best Pinot Noir in the world. You can understand why we took home a bottle of their 2014 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir.

Paul and Marnay at Domaine Drouhin

We took the very retro Amtrak Cascades train from Salem back to Portland. Although we were tired, we were hungry after a day of drinking wine! When we were back in Portland, we grabbed Biketown bikes and picked up takeout from Pok Pok Noi, part of the amazing Pok Pok family of restaurants. The boar collar and Vienamese wings were delicious!

retro Amtrak Cascades train from Salem to Portland

Wednesday

Our last full day in Portland. We got an early start by heading to Blue Star Donuts for another apple fritter. The best fritters ever! We took Biketown bikes and ended up at the iconic Powell’s Books, a must visit in Portland.

Lunch was at Maurice, a really cool European-style café that is only open for lunch. They serve French-Danish food plus vermouth, wine and sherry and incredible desserts and pastries. I do not think that we have been anywhere in America like this, it was really unique.

Maurice cardamom kissed squid

Maurice scone and pepper cheesecake

After our midday meal, we got some hiking in at Washington Park, a huge urban park in a particularly hilly section of Portland. We explored the Hoyt Arboretum and the International Rose Garden. Conveniently, the MAX light rail has an underground stop in the heart of the park and there is a free shuttle bus that can take you to the different attractions.

Paul walking on a trail at Washington Park

Dinner that night was our favorite dinner in Portland. We started at Jaqueline, in the Ladd’s Addition neighborhood, where we enjoyed $1 West Coast oysters along with a $2 Rainier tallboy and a $3 Topo Chico. So cheap! After our happy hour, we biked to Ken’s Artisan Pizza to grab some pizzas to go.

Jaqueline oyster happy hour

Back at home, we ate our two pizzas and drank the bottle of Brooks Sweet P Riesling. The Riesling had an aroma of petrol that reminded us of that bottle of Hermann J. Wiemer from Tail Up Goat. The two pizzas we ordered were: Handmade – hand-pulled fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, garlic, fennel seed and chile flake and the Brooklyn – tomato sauce, mozzarella, capicollo, pickled jalapeño and honey. The Handmade pizza stole the show. A simple yet perfect pizza.

Ken’s Artisan Pizza and Brooks Sweet P Riesling in our airbnb in Portland

Thursday

We were taking the Amtrak Cascades to Seattle, although our train did not leave until about 3:00PM. That meant that we had plenty of time to partake in one of Portland’s favorite activities: brunch! Sweedeedee, a little less than a mile from our apartment, is known for their pie selection, in addition to more traditional breakfast food. The catch is that you order all of your food at the counter, but you are served pie immediately. What a concept! We shared a slice of peach pie with cream, which was divine. By the time our real breakfast arrived, we were nearly too full to eat. Marnay’s bee pollen biscuit sandwich with ham was memorable, though.

Sweedeedee peach pie

After brunch, we took a meandering walk around the neighborhood and then one final Biketown ride before heading to Union Station. On to Seattle!

Click here to read all about our Seattle adventure!

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Da Rae Won and Kogiya

We were in the mood for Korean food last weekend so we ate two different styles: Korean noodles and Korean BBQ.  Here are our thoughts on Da Rae Won and Kogiya, combined into one review.

DA RAE WON

We worked up quite an appetite after going hiking in Greenbelt Park, so we headed for Da Rae Won.  Da Rae Won is a popular Korean restaurant in a strip-mall along Route 1 in Beltsvile.  They specialize in handmade noodles, which are made fresh throughout the day.

The restaurant has been open since 2003.  It’s an attractive space that shows few signs of wear, despite its age.   The menu, mostly in Korean, has short English descriptions below.  This can make it a little tricky to get a full understanding of what you are ordering based solely off the description.  We found the staff tremendously helpful and eager to explain the dishes, though.  For example, there were two “Noodles with Black Bean Sauce” on the menu, items “1” and” 2” in the numeric listing, so I asked our server to explain the difference.   One was more like a soup, she said, and the other had more onions and was saltier.  Plus, they both contained pork unless you tell them otherwise.  I chose the latter, while Marnay went for the Spicy Seafood and Vegetable Soup.

Da Rae Won panchan

The selection of panchan, or free side dishes, was a little small but the quality was high. The four dishes included radish kimchi, daikon, raw onion and an umami-packed black bean paste. Marnay described the thick, slightly sweet paste as tasting a bit like dark chocolate, almost like a mole sauce.

We also ordered four huge pork dumplings, or mandu, crispy from their brief swim in the deep-fryer but not greasy.

Da Rae Won pork dumplings

If you go to Da Rae Won, you may notice a constant “wapping” noise coming from the kitchen.  This is the sound of the noodle dough being constantly worked and stretched.   It is a welcome reminder of the freshness of the noodles you are about to enjoy.

Da Rae Won Spicy Seafood and Vegetable Soup

The best part of our dishes was the texture and chew from the handmade noodles.  For Marnay, next best was the tender squid in her soup.  On the other hand, the octopus was so chewy it was nearly inedible.  The spicy soup’s broth had a burn but it did not set our mouths on fire.

Da Rae Won Noodles with Black Bean Sauce

The noodles and the black bean sauce were served in separate bowls.  (Check out the before picture above and the after picture below).  I mixed in the bean paste, onions and pork on top of the noodles, creating something that looked like an oil slick.  The mole-like sauce and the snap of the noodles combined to make a delectable dish.

Da Rae Won Noodles with Black Bean Sauce
Da Rae Won is a friendly strip-mall restaurant with a dedication to the art of making noodles by hand.  It is well worth a drive or an Uber trip from the Greenbelt Metro.

Best Bite
Paul: Noodles with Black Bean Sauce
Marnay: Spicy Seafood and Vegetable Soup

Address
Da Rae Won: 5013 Garrett Ave Beltsville, MD 20705
Closest Metro: Greenbelt, 3.5 miles away

 


 

KOGIYA

The day after Da Rae Won, we still had not had our fill of Korean food.  So, we headed to Annandale, the DC area’s unofficial Koreatown.   The first thing you will notice at Kogiya is the massive amount of panchan that awaits you at your communal table.  It reminded me of the free snacks that were part of aperitvo in Milan.

Kogiya panchan

Kogiya is a Korean BBQ restaurant with tabletop grills, which are manned by your server.   The panchan selection was so vast that we only had to order two kinds of meats, and you could still do well with one meat between two people.  We chose soy-garlic ribeye and miso pork belly.

We grazed on the panchan and sipped on some Korean beer as our server cooked the thin slices of ribeye in front of us.  In about five minutes, it was done and we attacked it with our chopsticks with reckless abandon.  The ribeye was sweet from the marinade but still meaty.  Of the three dipping sauces available, my favorite was the gochujang, a spicy fermented bean paste.

Kogiya soy-garlic ribeye

There was a bit of an execution problem with the pork belly.  Our server came over to start cooking while we were still eating the ribeye.  The only thing is, he walked away and never told us when it was done.  Almost 20 minutes later, we flagged down another server and asked him if our food was finished cooking.  He took a look at the pork belly, fiddled with the grill and poked at the meat a few times and then declared it done.  By now, though, the pork wasn’t that hot. We liked the sweet and nutty flavor from the miso, but a few pieces were so chewy as to be inedible.

Kogiya miso pork belly

Pork belly confusion aside, we would be willing to go back to Kogiya.  We may go to another Korean BBQ restaurant first, though, and then compare.

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Soy-garlic ribeye

Address
Kogiya: 4220-A Annandale Road, Annandale, VA 22003
Closest Metro: East Falls Church, 5.5 miles away