Wednesday, November 25, 2020

New Normal: Sushi in the Car

 So by now we've been living 9 months in a quasi-quarantine with no definitive end in sight. As the hope of returning to dine at my favorite restaurants diminishes by the day, I have had to get creative to indulge my cravings. 

Case and point: Toshi Beaverton - the best sushi restaurant in the Portland metro area. This restaurant is a tine hole-in-the-wall in a derelict shopping mall whose most prominent features are a Goodwill and a Tattoo parlor. But it is seriously the best sushi on the west goal, the most amazing fatty tuna (toro) and sea urchin (uni). 

Since the first lockdown in March they have been close for dine-in and doing take-out only.

Challenge 1: they don't do delivery

Challenge 2: I live 30 minutes away, so getting takeout means the sushi sits in the car for a half hour before I eat it it. Not idea when I'm spending $120 on my most favorite freshest sushi. 

So we got creative. 

While we were still enjoying nice weather in the summer, we enjoyed our first post-pandemic meal at Toshi's at a park nearby. I was skeptical that their sushi would be good in to-go form, but it was unbelievably just as spectacular as the dine-in experience. 

Look at that gorgeous fatty tuna....

Round 2 we weren't so lucky, but better prepared. The good weather had run out in Portland and it was pouring rain when we arrived for our second take at Toshi's takeout. So we pulled into an empty spot in the parking lot, far from other cars who were swarming the tattoo parlor and Goodwill, and enjoyed our sushi with a tray table, dishes, and chopsticks from home.

They were also out of fatty tuna, but had sea urchin from Japan! 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Rooftop bar in the pandemic

 I haven’t dressed up to take blog photos since I went to Han Oak restaurant on Saturday, October 19, 2019. One year ago. From pretty much October to February, I had back to back business trips that kept me hustling with no time to dress up and go anywhere and take pictures. 

Then the pandemic hit and I stayed home all day every day and got really, really comfortable in pants without buttons or zippers. 

So when my partner and I had a free afternoon while the kid was at my mother-in-law’s, we went to the Hoxton Hotel to check out their lobby café – Lovely Rita – as well as Tope – their rooftop bar. 

I wore a dress I bought it Portland, but first wore in Portugal in June of 2018 (and haven’t worn since, a vintage denim jacket I bought in Seattle in 2015 and probably haven’t worn since, and carried a bag from Ippolito, which I ordered from Greece in 2018 and have never photographed. 

Jacket: Vintage, from Crossroads
Dress: from a boutique in Portland
Bag: Ippolito
Shoes: Target

Sunday, November 1, 2020

New Normal: A week of cafes during a pandemic

Before this week, I hadn’t been to a new café in over a year. 

Before having a baby, I would regularly scout out which new cafes had opened in the city and would check them out for my extensive café catalogue. 

However, by 2019 things got busy with work, the baby became a toddler, I was no longer working in cafes, and I was just too busy to drive to the other side of town to check out a café. 

I put the hobby on hold. 

But then the pandemic happened, and suddenly I wasn’t so in love with my home office anymore. 

I missed cafes. I missed lattes poured by professional baristas, I missed the vibes, I missed seeing other people. 

But the problem was that everything was closed…or so I thought. 

Apparently, while I was busy building a business and raising a kid, a lot of new cafes opened in Portland. So many that I had to make a list! And to my great surprise, they were open! 

So I cleared my calendar for the last week of September and made a point to visit one new café a day. 

Keeper Coffee

Keeper was the first café I visited because I heard that had seating and were actually allowing people to sit. This café was located mere blocks from where I used to work. Inside it doubles as a shop and has about 4 bar counter seats (spaced 6 ft apart) and 3 small tables outside. 

I ordered a latte and drank from a ceramic cup – for the first time in 6 months! I also ordered the lavender loaf and ate it there. 

Ardent Coffee 

I was looking forward to Ardent as it was getting a lot of hype online. This café is a nonprofit, where all proceeds go toward ending human slavery, and the baristas are volunteers. The café is located near Reed College and will surely be packed once on-campus courses resume. My latte was really excellent and the vibes were great. A few things about this café make it really unique compared to other cafes in Portland:

It has indoor and outdoor seating

It has parking…in a parking lot!

It has a garden area that feels like a private terrace. 

Lovely Rita

Lovely Rita is located in the lobby of the Hoxton Hotel. I love hotel lobbies and I love cafes, so it stands to reason that I would love lobbies with cafes and cafes in lobbies. I ordered a Flat White - still hard to find in this city. I love the vide of the cafe and the spacious lobby. I hope to be back again soon. 

Café Rowan

Also located in the Reed College area, Café Rowan took over the location of an old Starbucks that closed (thank goodness). The café doesn’t just serve coffee but also avocado toast and chia bowl. The plating and favor of the avocado toast was excellent. In a city where nearly every cafe has avocado toast, their offering was very original. This is definitely a welcome replacement for that old and dated Starbucks that used to occupy the space.

The Coffee Shop

Beaverton has really gotten a lot hipper since the days when I would frequent one of it’s only cool cafes – Insomnia (some 5 years ago). The Coffee Shop is a new edition that aims to bring a bit of the third wave coffee scene to the suburbs. While seated was limited and I had to get my coffee to go, I appreciate this little and it was clearly very popular with the neighborhood. 

The Bakery at Bar King

By night, this location is Bar King, an Asian-fusion restaurant. By day, it is The Bakery. I ordered a latte and 4 very original baked goods: a Gruyere Togarashi Brioche, a Miso Chocolate Chip Cookie, a Kimchi Egg Muffin, and a Matcha Almond Cake. I loved the ample outdoor seating in a quiet ally off of very busy Morrison street. 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

New Normal: Cocktails in Quarantine

 I didn't go out at all for the first 6 months of quarantine. 

I had been prepared for two weeks. That's what I thought "quarantine" meant. But then two weeks became months and months became infinity, and when I heard about a new outdoor cocktail bar opening up that serves Pina Coladas in whole pineapples, I went right for it!

I got together we a good friend I had not seen since December. We were supposed to meet at our favorite bar in March to catch up on my recent trip to Ethiopia, but the bars shut down one week before our scheduled date. We waited and waited and waited for some kind of re-emergence, and our opportunity finally came when we met at Tropicale in August.

It was a glorious summer day, the kind of Portland summers one looks forward to all year. And when we arrived at the bar it was 4:00pm on a Thursday and there was hardly anyone in line and plenty of tables open. (The same could not be said when we left at 6:00pm - the line of 30+ people stretched around the block and folks had to drink their cocktails standing for lack of seating). 

Of course I had to order the Pina Colada in the whole pineapple, which was amazing and thankfully not too strong. I also ordered a spicy margarita which is my new favorite drink in the whole world. When I decided I still had not drank enough, I went back in line and ordered a Negrete - which is basically a Negroni with Mezcal, two of my other favorite things. 

This was the first time since the pandemic started that I ate in public, drank in public, saw something who I wasn't related to, and otherwise felt like a normal human being. I will forever remember this glorious day for the feeling of freedom and gratitude it inspired. 

Waiting in line to order
the seating area

More seating area
My new "Look"

Drinking their excellent margarita
The whole pina

the spicy margarita
the beautiful pair of cocktails

tacos and chips with guac
second drink: negrete

Monday, October 12, 2020

New Normal: Coffee in the Quarentine

Heart on East Burnside was always one of my favorite cafes. They had a large table against the wall that was always my favorite spot to sit if I was going there with my laptop. 

They closed down for months when the pandemic came, and when they reopened it was a totally different experience. Heart was the first cafe I went to in June after the Governor of Oregon allowed us to reopen in Phase 1, and I was pretty shocked by how empty and sterile it felt. I have since been to numerous cafes that still managed to maintain a cozy and relaxed atmosphere while adhering to sanitation guidelines, but documenting the vibe at Heart will serve to remind me fo this strange time we are living in. 

Markings for the line to stand 6 ft apart

Waiting in line
No bathroom and masks required

Waiting in line
Plexi glass between the counter and patrons

No sitting sign
Favorite table is gone

Iced latte and hot latte - at least the drinks were still good!

Friday, October 2, 2020

New Normal: French Patisserie Vending Machines

The famous Pix sign, a cow, now with a mask on

 When businesses began to shut down in the USA in March of 2020, I had no idea how long and how hard the road ahead would be. Now it is October, and already two seasons, spring and summer, have passed in semi-quarantine. Back in March it seemed that all of the world was on lockdown, but as the months passed it quickly became clear that each continent and country would take its own course. 

The USA has been the worst example of how to conduct itself during a pandemic. Because we never really went on lockdown the virus continued spreading, and we did not see a decline in cases such as was Europe and Asia experienced. 

But this is not a post about pandemics or politics. 

This is a post about patisseries. 

Specifically, how some Portland businesses have been able to shift, pivot, innovate, and thrive in the restrictions and limitations brought on by this new era. 

I almost never write about my daily life in Portland, Oregon. But this blog is about cataloging cultural experiences, what better time to write about Portland than 2020, when Portland is undergoing profound cultural shifts that even I cannot recognize. 

Patrons of the vending machine

Pix Patisserie is one of those Portland staples that has been around since I moved here 12 years ago. I loved dining alone in their original location and watching film screenings on Friday nights. But as Pix grew, then consolidated into one location that was half Spanish tapas bar and half French patisserie. The vibe of the new location felt too pretentious for me, and so I stopped going to Pix.  

But once the pandemic shut down most restaurants and bars in Portland, Pix decided to get creative with its sales. 

The selection of cakes and goodies

Many of this scrumptious cakes, macaroons, and treats are now served through a self-service vending machine. 

The machine is card-only and the prices are not any cheaper than in store, but I enjoyed being able to get Pix cakes without dealing with the pretentious vibe and enjoy them in my own home. 

Packaging not super fancy
But still delicious if you plate it!

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

LA Chinatown: A Photo Odyssey

I had not visited LA Chinatown since I was a shy 17-year-old in 2005. My memories of LA Chinatown were pretty bland. Chow mien and cheap souvenirs. 

But now I'm married to a Chinese person and on our 2018 trip to LA we explored Chinatown in the rain and I found ti quite changed. Some of it was sad: neglected buildings and empty storefronts, and some of it was gentrified: the 2-hour long line for Howlin Ray's fried chicken and Endorphin Coffee located in an old strip mall.  China town is a weird juxtaposition of old and new. 

I got to give credit where it is due: my partner was holding the camera most of the time, but I curated this photo collection. 

New Normal: Sushi in the Car

 So by now we've been living 9 months in a quasi-quarantine with no definitive end in sight. As the hope of returning to dine at my favo...