Friday, July 18, 2014

Portland, OR | Day 5

June 27, 2014

The state of Oregon is renowned for its natural beauty and we were keen to get out and see it. The best we could manage given our circumstances and the weather was a half-day tour along the Columbia River, where we were rewarded with a couple of gorgeous waterfalls, lots of thick greenery, and a couple of bird sightings (see slideshow above).

Our guide Josh recommended eating at the Goose Hollow Inn and kindly dropped us off there for a late lunch. They're famous for their Rueben sandwiches, and even have a vegetarian Rachel alternative (US$8.85 ~ AU$9.45). Mushrooms, onion, tomato, sauerkraut, Rueben sauce and melted Swiss cheese completely over-ran the rye bread slices in a sloppy savoury avalanche. (It's a very different experience to the Rachel we once made at home.) I enjoyed it very much, though I struggled to get through the pickle, potato salad and carrot sticks on the side.

We did a little last wandering in the afternoon and began our evening at Ground Kontrol, a bar and classic games arcade where Michael had his pick of Street Fighter, Ninja Turtles and Terminator 2 pinball. I didn't have any personal nostalgia for these games, but I dabbled in a little Ms. Pacman and enjoyed the subtitled anime film projecting near the bar. They had a great menu of snacks like hot dogs and frito pie with a vegan option for 90% of their items. Portland is really just too cool.

We held off on the game-time snacks since we had a dinner reservation at Departure. This bar serves modern Asian food with rooftop views in a setting we weren't quite hip to, sleek and white with interminable chill grooves and very young, entirely professional staff. We observed in awe a table of improbably young and slender girls with fake tans and volumes of meticulously curled hair as they took selfies for an hour (and sat silently with their cocktails communing with their phones for a second hour).

This didn't detract too much from the fine food. Departure has separate vegan and gluten-free menus that each run to more than a dozen sharable plates. While we took stock of our options, I sipped a Green Hornet cocktail (US$10 ~ AU$10.70), a light sparkling mix with white rum, yuzu, coriander and a lime wedge.

After ordering, our dishes arrived quickly in no particular order. The chili tofu (US$12 ~ AU$12.80) had a great sweet-and-spicy braise, and had been stir-fried with hearts of palm, green onions, whole dried chillis and some candied walnuts that I made sure to clear from the bottom of the bowl. The Asian pear and apple salad (US$9 ~ AU$9.60) included more hearts of palm among the thin fruit slices plus candied tamarind, roasted macadamias and whole mint leaves.

The gingered mushrooms (US$13 ~ AU$13.90) were Michael's favourite, delicately layered over sweet and sour rhubarb with fresh watercress and ramps.

A dab of spicy miso really made the sweet potato tempura sushi rolls (US$8 ~ AU$8.60) - Michael claimed the wasabi while I swooped on the accompanying pickled ginger. The steamed buns (US$7 ~ AU$7.50) could barely wrap themselves around their char-flavoured tempeh slabs, and we ate most of the accompanying 'slaw and fresh herbs with our fingers.

The dessert menu was impressive and we couldn't agree on a dish to share. (We should've, because the portions were large and our available stomach space was small.) Michael championed the (non-vegan) dark chocolate wasabi bar with yuzu sorbet, yuzu jam and candied peanuts (pictured left, US$9 ~ AU$9.60), while I had to try the vegan Departure banana split (pictured right, US$9 ~ AU$9.60). It involved three enormous tempura banana fritters, miso butterscotch, a dark cherry compote, and a coconut-based peanut brittle icecream. I had to leave the last fritter, but you better believe I ate that icecream.

As we walked back to our Portland accommodation one last time, we were drawn to a crowd gathered on a street corner. They'd congregated around a busking band, with a joyous, athletic horn section that got much of the crowd dancing. It was the kind of spontaneous, welcoming street scene that I'll remember Portland for, maybe even longer than their magnificent veg*n food.

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