Fun and foodie pleasures in greater Portland

Story & photos by Barbara Beckley

Gourmet tea tasting with Tony Tellin, tea master at Steven Smith Teamaker.

Fine wine and cheeses in front of me. The glistening water and picturesque banks of the Willamette River around me. Life is good in Portland, Oregon.

Relaxing into the cushions of a 21-foot Duffy Electric Boat under the shade of its surrey-like canvas top, I watched in lazy enjoyment as the beautiful waterfront homes — some of them floating right at the water’s edge — bridges, velvety green islands, and occasional manufacturing sites passed before my eyes. While it was a bit like Newport Beach, where Duffy boats were invented in 1968, the serenity, greenery, and wildlife was pure Oregon.

Mallards and drakes floated past. And — oh my! Out of nowhere, a sea lion surfaced to our portside with a huge wild salmon in its mouth. Phones clicked and videoed as the sea lion proceeded to toss and thrash the hapless fish into meal-size pieces. Lunchtime on the river!

Even our captain and founder/owner of the Portland Electric Boat Company, Christopher Lloyd, was amazed. His boats have been plying the Willamette River for two years now, and Captain Lloyd said he’d never seen anything like this hungry sea lion.

The sea lion escapade was a one-in-a-million surprise. But for visitors like me, who haven’t been to Portland for a while, it was just the first of many great new experiences, including the Duffy boat ride.

Ordinarily, the electric boats are a do-it-yourself adventure. Anyone can rent one of the 10-passenger boats for several hours, stock it with food and beverages if they wish, and sail it themselves.

“All you need is a driver’s license. You can cruise all the way to beautiful Willamette Falls and back,” Mr. Lloyd explained.

Elsewhere in the city, I delighted in discovering Godzilla, well, a mural of Godzilla, lording it over skateboarders at the Burnside Skatepark under Burnside Bridge; the Planter’s Mr. Peanut’s NUTmobile; Stark’s Vacuum Museum, which chronicles dust-busting machines from the 1800s to the 1960s; traditional Japanese bread (I didn’t know there was such a thing); and a flourishing craft mead scene, like the ancient Vikings’ honey wine, only better, at the Oregon Mead & Cider Co.  

Sassy little pastry faces stuck out their chocolate tongues at me at the Oyatsupan Bakers in Beaverton, Greater Portland’s only traditional Japanese bread and sweet treats bakery. Opened two years ago by Hiroyuki Horie, who spent 25 years running Japanese baking giant Pasco Shikishima Corporation’s Los Angeles and Portland operations, the Japanese native now crafts from scratch the Japanese breads, pastries, and sandwiches he was unable to find on the West Coast.

His success has been instant. No surprise. This was my first taste of Japanese pan bread. Unlike Western hard bread, Mr. Horie’s loaves, baguettes, puff pastries, and sandwich breads are pillowy soft, with a silky texture akin to cotton candy. The sassy pastries — swirled chocolate tucked into a spiral of puff pastry — tasted like chocolate mousse on butter bread. And his kare donuts (football shaped fritters filled with Japanese beef curry, rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried) were to die for.  

At the nearby Dapper & Wise Roasters Coffee Lab, I learned the art of coffee “cupping” to find my true coffee favorites. The lab offers weekly free cupping classes and a menu of paid courses from roasting to latte art. First, I smelled the fragrance of the dry grounds in the cup. Next, I sniffed the aroma once boiling water was poured in and then broke the “crust” (foam to me) and inhaled the “burst of volatile aromatics.” Last, I loudly slurped up the coffee from a large spoon to “vaporize the liquid and simultaneously taste and smell the coffee,” according to the coffee sommelier. If I can only remember this the next time I buy coffee beans.  

Tea is also a Portland star. I watched as millennials carefully hand-blended and hand-wrapped exotic tea leaves into small-batch blends at the Steven Smith Teamaker production facility and tasting room, established by the late Steven Smith, a Portland native and co-founder of Stash Tea and Tazo.

“Our only goal is to make tea we like to drink,” Tony Tellin, head tea maker, told me. “Mission accomplished,” I thought, after tasting the Golden Tippy Assam full leaf black tea.

Not to forget hard liquor. Turns out that Trail Distilling in Oregon City is the first distillery in the first city west of the Mississippi since Prohibition, creating all-American gin and vodka. And Big Bottom Distilling in Hillsboro is a leader in American whiskey.

Where to stay? I continued the fun at the slightly quirky and totally popular McMenamins Grand Lodge Hotel in Forest Grove. Once a historic Masonic and Eastern Star building, the hotel now sports whimsical art — think 1960s — 90 unique guestrooms, a spa, bar, two restaurants, and gardens. In the summertime, guests enjoy outdoor and indoor live music and seasonal events.  

For more information, visit www.travelportland.com.


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Apr 2021


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