The first full phrase I learned in Finnish was “kuppi teetä, kittos,” which means “cup of tea, thank you.” It was really the only phrase I needed. I’d slide my little tray down the cafe line, pick up a pulla from the case and order my tea. After counting out my euros and lamenting the cost a bit internally (upwards of eight American dollars for a tea and a pastry) I’d sit and take in the quiet, cool Helsinki landscape. I don’t remember much about what I would think or how long I would sit, but it was my favorite moment of the day.
Recently mom and I went on a little mom/daughter trip to Portland and spent forty eight hours doing whatever we damn well pleased, which was mostly watching Project Runway, chatting about everyone we know and eating.
My parents have a joke with some friends that Portland is the city that doesn’t want to serve you because you wait a long time for EVERYTHING, EVERYWHERE in Portland. You wait to be seated, you wait for drinks, you wait for someone to take your order, you wait for your order to come out, you wait for your bill – you get the picture. And while this theory didn’t stand up in every situation – it did apply to the vast majority of our dining experiences.
An exception to the rule was Imperial where we ate the first night because I heart Douggie. While service was slow – but acceptable to us as we were taking our time, we were seated right away partly because unlike many other locations in Portland, you can make an actual reservation. We learned three important lessons.
- Grilled meats should be cut at an extreme angle with a serrated knife. Mom & I were seated at the Chef’s table (see number three) and were able to watch incredible grilling/smoking action up close and personal. Although neither of us ended up ordering any grilled beasts – we did watch a number of plates come together. Every steak, chop and chicken breast was cut beautifully at a deep angle with a serrated knife and then placed on top of necessary sauces, sides, etc.
This is how all grilled meat should be cut always and forever, it is most beautiful. Now, every time something comes off the grill at home I cut it a la Imperial and Matt rolls his eyes. But even with a healthy dose of skepticism he agrees meat looks better cut this way.
- Pickled Watermelon rind = big thumbs up, smoked then pickled mushrooms = big thumbs down. Enough said.
- OpenTable offers valuable insight on guests if the host would only bother to use it. I consistently rant and rave (wait till I get my New York post finished) about being seated at TERRIBLE tables in fine dining establishments due to what I can only assume is ageism and my inexplicably youthful vibe. When I’ve made a reservation you can be assured of two things ONE, I really want to eat here and TWO, I’m going to spend some money. AND YET I am consistently seated at the tiny uneven table next to the bathroom and service entrance. However, at Imperial – we were assigned one table by the host, then after a quick glance down at what I can only assume is my OpenTable profile – he said, “no, wait – seat them at Chef’s Table.” I don’t know what it says in there but I wish more hosts paid attention to it.
The next morning Mom and I waited almost two hours to eat at Broder Nord. We had little else to do that day except make it to Powells and a movie – so didn’t mind so much, particularly because the food was epically delicious and epically scandinavian (is my bias showing?). A few important take aways here though:
- Dark bread and smoked fish should really be the staple of every breakfast. Imagine how happy and healthy and productive people would be if this is how they started their day? Just saying.
- Just order the Swedish Breakfast Bord. Anyone who’s spent any time in Scandinavia will be immediately and happily transported back by this excellent and authentic spread.
- Do not take your family of five to brunch at a restaurant in Portland that is über hip, über Portland and über unwilling to take reservations. We watched a family of five from Boston literally melt down waiting to be seated at this tiny, slow restaurant. At the point Mom and I were starting to get antsy (and were still 20 minutes away from a table) these folks were told it would be another hour and a half. Chaos ensued. Make good food and vacation choices people.
- Will someone please invest in a Scandinavian place in Seattle? I’m available for consultation.
Our final major meal was another brunch at The Woodsman Tavern, which is a little off the beaten path and takes reservations (in Portland….whaaatttt???).
- Pickled collard greens are delicious. I never, ever thought I would want to eat pickled collard greens but seeing them on the menu served alongside shaved ham, blueberry jam and a cheddar biscuit – curiosity over took me. The entire ensemble was delicious and great compliments to one another. Pickled collard greens for breakfast = thumbs up. Smoked then pickled mushrooms = still big thumbs down (they were really awful).
- Everything hip is noisy and I’m tired of it. I loved the food on this menu, I loved the feel and style of this place and I HATED the noise. Top offenders in Seattle include Crow (although the pictures I am seeing now show big plushy curtains – so improvements perhaps) and Oddfellows. I am not sure why modern restaurants feel the need to drown their guests in the presence of exceptionally live space, but there are some ways to mitigate this – not the least of which is FOAM under ALL HARD SURFACES. Does it feel a little weird when noticed? Yes. How many people will notice? Not many. Will everyone hear the people at their tables better and have a generally more pleasant meal? YES. Worth it. Foam. Take it under advisement.
Of the three, Broder is the only place I must eat at again – if accompanied by very patient companions. We just scratched the surface of the city that doesn’t want to serve you. Looking forward to the next round and future lessons. Who’s with me?
My high school music teacher was a verbally abusive and disgruntled human being (he once turned to my section and said “What’s going on over there? It sounds like a Mongolian cluster f***,” causing the international student FROM MONGOLIA to promptly stop coming to choir) but the man did like accolades so my sophmore year he recorded and submitted tapes of all “his” singers to be considered for Washington state choir. I was the only one selected, for which said music teacher took credit (nevermind years and years and dollars and dollars of private voice lessons that had positively nothing to do with him).
Anyhow, Washington State Choir took place mid-state in Yakima. As I did not drive yet my Mother woke me up early one morning, packed me a few snacks and dropped me off at the Greyhound station to take the bus to Yakima. I was given cash and directions to take a cab to the fair grounds once I arrived, if possible, I should find someone else going to state to split the cab with (more economical, and we are a practical people).
I felt so grown up heading out on this adventure. I’d never traveled anywhere independently before and it all seemed very mature making sure you were back on the bus at appropriate times, listening to my book on tape via Walkman, and gazing with purpose out the window at the increasingly boring Washington landscape. I don’t remember having a cell phone, maybe I did, but I don’t think I called my parents when I got to Yakima. Thinking back on it now I have to imagine that putting me on the bus that morning was a touch scary for my parents. But I admire their willingness to facilitate independence. I remember so much about this trip and experience precisely because I felt so gloriously grown up, trusted and alone.
After arriving, I quickly determined that State Choir was just a bigger version of school choir, complete with a verbally abusive and disgruntled director. Checking in to our hotel that night, positively overrun with musical teenagers and not at all like a scene from Pitch Perfect, I delighted in receiving a cookie. I really felt like I’d earned the cookie and I’d never stayed at a DoubleTree before so I did not KNOW about the cookie and it appeared to be a very FANCY cookie.
I trundled up to my shared room with my cookie and music and bag where I met my roommates (all Mormon, one adopted from China). I was thoroughly informed on the grand Mormon Choir tradition as I got ready for bed. I felt really proud of myself for working through whatever anxiety I had about meeting and sleeping with strangers. As I got ready to brush my teeth I remembered the cookie. I retrieved the cookie from my tidy pile of belongings and sank down across from the sink in the closet of the hotel room. The satisfaction of being alone and doing well in my sampled adulthood, rested with me while I dug in to that cookie. It was chewy and substantial, inexplicably crunchy and soft. Downright complex for being a hotel giveaway. I felt amazing crouched in that closet with that cookie staring at my fifteen year old self in the mirror above the sinks. I knew I was going to have a weird musical week, but I also knew I was an awesome adult now and I would be fine. And I was.
Fast forward fifteen years. I am again headed to Eastern Washington to stay at a DoubleTree. This time I drive. This time I have to get MYSELF out of bed early to make the trip. This time I pack my own snacks. I am still listening to things on tape but instead of library books on cassette it is NPR programs and instead of a Walkman it is my iPhone. When I checked in for the work conference I was attending, I felt nervous. I’d never participated in a professional event with these colleagues before. What would it be like? Who would I eat with? Did I pack the right outfits? More importantly DID THEY DRINK COCKTAILS?
The first night I’d not connected with anyone I knew and was headed out for dinner on my own. As I was walking to the restaurant two colleagues whom I deeply respect saw me and invited me to join them. With a moderate level of hesitation (I mean I was going to eat somewhere GOOD, where were they headed!?) I said yes.
Thankfully, the restaurant was excellent, I ordered smoked trout on toast (WHAAATTT yum). And they OF COURSE drank cocktails. And we talked about work; they offered career advice, providing camaraderie for the challenges we all face as women in our profession. We spoke candidly and honestly and I felt so very lucky to be held under the wing of these women, and to be advised by them as I trotted ideas and perceptions forward. I felt suddenly professional and very adult and very lucky.
That night, snuggled back in my hotel room I remembered theDoubleTree cookie I’d been handed when I checked in. After confirming that I had enough calories left in my daily quota to eat it (yes you read that correctly,GAH being an adult is not all it’s cracked up to be) I sat in my pajamas and watched bad MTV reality programs while eating the cookie. The satisfaction of being alone and doing well in my current adulthood, rested with me while I dug in to that cookie. It was chewy and substantial, inexplicably crunchy and soft. I knew I was going to have a great week, but I also knew I was indeed an awesome adult and I would of course, be fine.