PDX Stands for Pretty Darn Excellent!

by Nancy Bestor

IMG_0269My husband Bob and I come from the San Francisco Bay Area. When we moved to Ashland, Oregon in our late 20’s, we had already spent many of our adult years eating and drinking at hip locations throughout the Bay. Moving to little Ashland was something of a culture shock in the food and drink department. Yes, there are plenty of very good restaurants in Ashland, but not the big city ethnic and urban spots we were used to. Thus, we’re always looking for an excuse to drive to the city, whether Portland or San Francisco, and eat and drink our way around town.

Last month we slipped away from our teenage daughters and spent three delicious days in Portland. We booked a hotel on priceline.com, and were lucky to get the Waterfront Marriott, for $115 a night. Parking downtown can be tricky, but we usually find nearby street parking and only have to pay a hour or so here or there and that’s much cheaper than downtown Portland garage prices.

IMG_0970On our first day, we met dear friends Do and Ray for lunch at my new favorite Portland eatery, Boke Bowl. This “casual ramen spot” started like so many other Portland spots as a pop-up food cart, and serves homemade ramen noodles, and my favorite, steamed filled buns. Another absolutely delicious dish was their warm brussel sprout and cauliflower salad. I would never have tried it if it weren’t for my vegetarian friend Do, and it was oh so delicious. The fried chicken steamed bun was also my favorite, and the grilled eggplant pork bun was my favorite too. As you can tell, everything was my favorite, and I must head back soon to try more dishes. Wait times can be long at Boke Bowl. We arrived just after they opened, at 11:30, and were seated immediately. But by the time we left an hour later, the line was out the door.

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We met Ashland friends Dale and Kim for drinks late that afternoon at another great spot, Departure Restaurant and Lounge. Departure features a stunning outdoor patio bar, 15 floors up above the Nines Hotel, right smack in downtown Portland. The panoramic views alone are worth a visit, and sitting in the late afternoon sun with our young and hip Ashland friends amid the even younger and more hip Portlanders made for a lovely afternoon.

We ate dinner that night at Little Bird, the sister restaurant to the popular French restaurant Le Pigeon. The more casual Little Bird was very good, although on the spendy side compared to other Portland spots we have frequented.

IMG_0984The next day we met Ray for lunch again, this time at Bollywood Theater on North East Alberta, for delicious Indian street food. Very different from the heavier sauced Indian food I have loved in the past, Bollywood’s offerings included roasted beets, kati rolls – chicken, egg and chutney rolled in Indian flat bread, dahi papri chat – housemade crackers topped with chutney and chickpeas, and more. Everything is served on steel plates, just like street food in India, says owner Troy MacLarty. I recommend it!

Our eating tales are not over, because believe me, Bob and I can squeeze a lot of meals into two-and-a-half days. That night we met our friend and former co-worker Sammy and her beautiful new daughter Vivienne for dinner at Por que no? on North Mississippi Avenue. It was a very busy night at this popular taqueria, but the long line moved almost as quickly as my Pomegranate Margarita disappeared.

Finally our Portland food odyssey had almost come to and end. But, before we drove home on Sunday morning, we stopped for a delicious breakfast at Pine State Biscuits. With its fabulous take on American diner style food, Yelp reviews continually mention waits up to two hours on weekend mornings. But again we beat the crowds by arriving just after they opened at 7:15. We ordered, snared a table and soon dug in. I had the Reggie, which is fried chicken, bacon and cheese served on a fresh baked biscuit and smothered in gravy. Bob, always trying to show me up, had the Reggie Deluxe, with an added fried egg. They were fantastic, and we drove home happy and eight pounds heavier.

Need Help? Call on Yelp!

by Nancy Bestor

photoI must confess, I rely heavily upon my electronics. I simply cannot go an entire evening without waking my computer to check something on the internet. Maybe it’s my email, maybe it’s one of the blogs I like to follow, or maybe I even get the computer going, and then can’t remember what I was looking for. But that is another story. Whatever the reason, I’m addicted.

This doesn’t change when I travel. In fact, I rely more on my iPhone when I’m away than when I’m at home. One of my all time favorite iPhone applications is Yelp, the local business directory and review site. Yelp makes it easy to find anything from the nearest gas station or drugstore, to, as you may have guessed in my case, the best place to eat good food nearby. I’ve looked up cupcakes, coffee, bars, hamburger joints, and more when visiting cities all over the country. I use Yelp to find out how close these places are, to see what other foodies are saying and then to map the quickest way to get there from my current location. It could not be easier.

On our recent trip to Southern California, we successfully used Yelp to find fantastic cheap eats throughout the greater Los Angeles area. Thanks to other Yelp reviewers, we ate delicious bread pudding and flan from Crème Caramella at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market, crazy good ooey gooey cheesy and garlicky fries and a siracha candy bar from the Chego food truck in Culver City, dynamite spicy basil eggplant with chicken at Wot Dong Moon Lek Noodle House in LA’s Silver Lake neighborhood and the best clam chowder I have ever had at Splash in Pismo Beach.creme

To be truthful, Yelp has let me down a time or two. Although I try to pick restaurants that have a large number of reviews (the Chego food truck had over 1000) and have a rating of at least four out of five stars, I have been steered wrong on occasion. On this same trip we stopped in Sacramento for dinner at Maalouf’s, a Lebanese restaurant that had four and a half stars on Yelp. The food looked and smelled great, but turned out to be amazingly bland, and when a pale, blonde belly dancer who looked like she hadn’t been dancing for long started swaying through the isles, we could not get the check quickly enough.

An interesting note: The claim has been made that Yelp reviews are not as unbiased as advertised, but overall my experience with Yelp has been very positive, and I’ll continue using it when I travel.

Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder & San Diego, Too

by Nancy Bestor

I’ve never had any desire to be in the armed forces. And although my youngest daughter was intrigued when she heard that the military would pay for college after enlisting, I’m pretty sure neither of my kids will join up either. But I’ve always had some fascination with the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Maybe it’s because my father served in the Air Force, or because Bob’s father was an officer in the Navy, but maybe the truth is much more shallow than that – maybe it’s because a man in uniform is awfully cute. Whatever the reason, I was delighted to visit the U. S.S. Midway in San Diego last month, on a college visits road trip our family took to Southern California.

The Midway was one of America’s longest serving aircraft carriers. Decommissioned in 1992, it is 972 feet long, and when fully operational could house more than 4,000 men and women at one time. And it was its awesome size that impressed me most. A person could get lost on the ship tour, and the flight deck could easily host several football games or dozens of basketball games at once. (An NCAA basketball game has been scheduled for the flight deck in November of 2012, between San Diego State and Syracuse.)

Here are a few facts. The typical sailor who served on the Midway was 19 years old. The kitchens on board served as many as 13,000 meals a day, and the size of cookware on display in the galley is enormous. There were more than 1,500 telephones on the Midway. One link in its anchor weighs 130 pounds. More than three million gallons of ship and aviation fuel could be stored in its tanks. Another awe-inspiring stop on the tour was the bunk rooms for low level enlisted men. There were at least six men to a room with barely any room to move, let alone have any privacy.
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