Monday, June 18, 2012

Willamette Valley/Portland Vacation Part 2

Part 1 of our vacation can be found here.

We wrapped up our time in the Willamette Valley with dinner at the famous Joel Palmer House. Normally, it would’ve been a little rich for our blood, but they had a three-course special for the month of April. Joel Palmer House specializes in mushrooms – all kinds of mushrooms. Local mushrooms and local wine were right up our alley.

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A sample of the mushroom risotto with truffle shavings arrived as an amuse bouche. I followed it up with the mushroom tart with truffle “snow”. Joe ordered the wild mushroom soup that had the shape of a mushroom drizzled on top with cream. For my entrée, I picked the marinated sturgeon over quinoa with a mushroom duxelle and cayenne aioli. The presentation and flavors and textures all complemented one another beautifully. I couldn’t turn down the trio of sorbets, though now I can’t remember what they were… I believe the one on the left was candycap mushroom and one of them involved basil. I’m always a fan of a restaurant where the chef is actually back in the kitchen and occasionally circulates around the dining room to check on how everyone is enjoying the food. Neither Joe nor I could believe just how incredible this meal was.

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The next morning we left the Willamette Valley to explore the Portland area. I requested a trip to the Columbia River Gorge, and I was not disappointed. After an initial mix-up that involved us hiking to nothing in the drizzly rain and mud, not being able to see from an overlook, and me getting grumpy, we found what we were looking for – waterfalls!

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We spent quite a while hiking around Latourell Falls. We crossed a log bridge and got ourselves out onto a point overlooking the the top of the falls, which was very scary and very cool. Then we continued on to Bridal Veil Falls and Multnomah Falls. By the time we arrived at The Governor Hotel, we were a little embarrassed to waltz through the fancy lobby in our muddy clothes and shoes. The travel gods were smiling on us this trip, and we were upgraded to a room with a huge balcony where Joe Mad Men-ed it up with some Pacific Northwest coffee.

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We were thirsty after all that hiking, so we cleaned up and walked to Deschutes Brewery for some beers and hockey. Somehow we scored two seats at the bar and watched the choreography of bartenders as they satiated the thirsty crowd that constantly demanded their attention. After a few beers, we strolled over to dinner at Gruner. Out of all the restaurants that I looked at, Joe was most intrigued by Gruner’s take on traditional German/Austrian cuisine since he lived in Milwaukee for several years, and he was not disappointed.

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We started with the beet-pickled deviled eggs (top left corner) and a venison terrine with fiddlehead ferns (bottom right). Side note: sometimes I eat meat when it’s a special trip or cuisine. My entrée is no longer on the spring menu, but I believe it involved quail and soft-boiled quail eggs on a salad of wilted greens. We opted out of dessert in order to hit as many locations as possible in one evening, and our check was brought to us in a German-language copy of  Eduard Morik’s Der Alte Turmhahn.

A couple of friends had recommended Andina to us, but it was very difficult to get a reservation, so we tried to get in for dessert and after-dinner drinks with success. It was definitely the place to be since it was still busy late at night. I don’t remember much about what we ordered except that it was good, very good, and I was extremely full. From the menu, I’m pretty sure I had the Melones con Aji to drink – “Hendrick's gin shaken with lime juice, sugar and agua de melón (fresh cantaloupe juice), served on the rocks with a float of agua de pepino (cucumber water), lime zest and ají en polvo (ground hot peppers)”. Yeah, that thing.

Somehow, the next morning, we rolled out of bed, ran the only 3 miles I ran all week just to end up at Voodoo Doughnut. There was no way that Joe was leaving Portland without a maple-bacon doughnut. Those doughnuts are HUGE, and I didn’t have my phone or camera with me, so no pictures.

As we were at the rental car place returning the car, the sun came out to wish us safe travels back to Nashville!