Notes from the Road – Visit to Oregon & Seattle, December 2008
Prior to the Chanukah and Christmas holidays, I had a chance to visit Oregon (Portland & the Willamette Valley) and Seattle; seeing some great friends, eating some damn good meals and having a great time. Unfortunately, I decided to visit during one of the coldest winters’ in years, but overall it was a blast. If you haven’t had a chance to ever visit the Pacific Northwest of the United States, I hope you will make a point to get up there. It is a beautiful part of our country with fantastic people, outstanding locales and many surprises.
Below are some of the great experiences that I was able to enjoy; which I hope you will find entertaining.
After arriving into snowy Portland, I made my way (slowly) over to the Willamette Valley for some fun times with my buddy Alex Sokol-Blosser of Sokol Blosser Winery (www.SokolBlosser.com). Unfortunately with the weather, many wineries weren’t even opening that day, so Alex took me over to Mcminnville to visit a few of his friends whom we knew would be open. The first stop was the wine bar run by R. Stewart & Co. Wines (www.RStewartandCo.com), a cool little storefront space right on 3rd street. Their wines, both the R. Stewart & Big Fire labels (great flavors by the way) are served in this café-like setting.
We then continued on (in a driving snow, no less) over to Panther Creek Cellars (www.PantherCreekCellars.com), which is located in the old Mcminnville Power Plant – one of the coolest ‘urban’ wine-settings there is. I have always loved the deep flavors, extraction levels and full nose behind their wines, having never been disappointed. I was fortunate to run into an old friend, Bill Hanson who is their Assistant Winemaker/ Sales & Marketing Manager. Bill was an extremely kind host, tasting us through the entire line-up of PC wines, with the best being the Shea Vineyard (WOW) and the 20th Anniversary release.
After the tasting extravaganza, we stayed in the little wine town and walked over to one of Alex’s favorite restaurants, Bistro Maison (www.BistroMaison.com) for an early French dinner and more wine! This is a quaint little restaurant right on 3rd Street that is extremely wine friendly and geared to supporting its local population. I had a wonderful Wild Northwest Salmon in a (fresh) Chanterelle mushroom sauce, which was silky, rich and a perfect complement on a cold evening. A treat at the end of the meal was being served a bowl of fresh, whole hazelnuts with an antique nutcracker – so cool!
Before heading out the next morning, Alex was able to take me on a driving tour of the Willamette Valley, including a quick stop to the newest Sokol Blosser parcel, Blackberry Vineyard. This land will start producing (usable) fruit in the next few years and will become a key flavor component in their wines. We then headed back to his winery for a great tour and tasting through the line-up of SB wines. All of them were truly fantastic, but the Pinot Gris is made in the true style of Alsace, with Oregon influence and the Estate Pinot Noir will make many happy for years to come!
Heading back to the city, I had to stop at one of my all-time favorite restaurants, Higgins. This is a neighborhood restaurant run by a James Beard Award winner who believes in a commitment to the earth through sustainable farming, contributing to the well being of others and genuinely being good people. I sat at the bar for lunch and enjoyed a house made pastrami, served open faced, topped with white cheddar cheese with a young greens salad and hazelnuts. This may seem extremely simple to all of you, but it is absolute heaven to my taste buds and me.
Later that evening I was able to catch up with some old friends (from the Portland days) to visit a good buddy, Justin Akins, bar manager/proprietor of Trebol Restaurant (www.TrebolPDX.com). Justin and his partner Kenny Hill have created a modern Mexican cantina with outstanding and seasonal food, creative cocktails and a warm atmosphere. My dish was the true winner of the evening, Manila Clams spiked with Serrano chilies and house made chorizo – extremely flavorful without being overbearing with spice.
My last Portland experience before heading out of the city was a tasting with the good folks (thanks to Craig Hedstrom & Shirley Brooks!) from Elk Cove Winery (www.ElkCove.com) and a luncheon at Giorgio’s Restaurant in the Pearl district. We dove right in on the wines and their 2007 Pinot Gris was off the chain! If you see this wine in a wine shop, grab some bottles now! Outstanding stuff! As well, their 2007 Willamette Pinot Noir was tasting great and an absolute bargain, if you can find it! By the way, my dishes I selected paired perfectly for lunch, starting with a light Cream of Celeriac soup (extremely delicate) and Butternut Squash Agnolotti with Brussel Sprouts (wow).
Unfortunately, Seattle was getting hit by one of the worst weather spells it had seen in years when I decided to head up there, with snow drifts and ice aplenty! At the same time, temperatures were hovering in the 10’s & 20’s, so there was a lot of hibernating and taking it easy. Fortunately, we did get a chance to break out a little bit, hitting Easy Street Records Café (www.EasyStreetRecords.com), a counter culture dive restaurant that just so happens to be in a record store. Very fun and funky little place, exactly what I would expect in Seattle.
Post breakfast we took a run (in freezing weather I might add) over to Pike Place Market (www.PikePlaceMarket.org) to take in the sights, sounds and vibe of Seattle. I had driven by the market in the past, but never had a chance to check it out. Man, it was so cool with all of the different vendors, products and people – I can’t wait to head back in warmer weather and during spring/summer produce season!
The next day following a hibernation evening due to the blizzard, we headed out to a cool little neighborhood joint called Endolyne Joe’s (www.ChowFoods.com). This restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as a meal called Blunch (you can figure that out) every day. Also, they do a Southern States’ theme each month at the restaurant that they carry over to their menus, with December being Georgia. How cool is that? I enjoyed a killer scramble with two kinds of ham, buttery, pepper grits and homemade bread and jam. What a great Sunday morning treat!
It was wonderful to return to the Pacific Northwest and experience all that the region has to offer. I look forward to returning there in warmer weather to catch up with friends and enjoy the spoils! For my next entry, I am turning to my boss (and father) Robert Nyman who has dutifully offered to fill in, recapping his visit across the pond to Paris before year-end 2008. Just wait; there should be some great stories and adventures! Best wishes to each of you on a happy and healthy New Year and remember, Keep Eating & Drinking!