Saturday, December 26, 2020

New Normal: Touchless Window Shopping


One of my favorite stationary stores in Portland - 11/11 - closed its physical location due to the pandemic. With such a reduction in foot traffic due to quarantine, loss of customers from the co-working spaces nearby, and the inability to host its many social events, this cute little store could not make it at its former location. 

I was sad when I heard they moved online, but felt a small sense of relief when I heard they returned in pandemic-proof physical form: a touch-less window store. 

Now in downtown Portland, you can see this pretty display of 11/11's best selling items. By scanning a barcode, you can pull up the item list on your phone and order them to be delivered to your house right there. I am so happy to see small businesses innovate during this difficult time, and I can't wait for their physical shop to return. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Lockdown 2.0 Scramble Week

In mid-November the  state of Oregon announced a "two week pause" which halted events and reduced the capacity of in-door dining. Then that "pause" became a "four-week freeze" which banned in-door and out-door dining and closed spas, gyms, and other "non-essential" businesses. In this state of Oregon this also means no bars will open because we can't have cocktails to-go. 

At least this time we knew what was coming, so the week before we scrambled to visit some of our favorite places while we still could. 

First on the list was Eem. Coincidentally, this is also one of the last restaurants we ate at right before the first lockdown in March. It is a small restaurants and I remember we sat so close to other patrons I could smell the food at their table. I leaned over and asked my partner "Should we really be here?" The food was great but we both felt kind of weird for eating out during a looming pandemic. That was March 13th. The first lockdown because March 17th, and Eem, which had never offered to-go options, wouldn't start offering takeout and delivery until August. 

We had eaten Eem's food a few times at home during the lockdown, but once the initial restrictions were lifted we were excited to try the heated private cabanas we had heard so much about. They were every bit as wonderful as we imagined. 

Inside the cabana was a personal fireplace that felt so intimate and cozy. I ordered a cocktail because I knew it would be my last chance, and I indulged on curry, papaya salad, and braised pork belly. 

The second place on our hit-list was Tropicale. I had been there before in August with a friend as a first-pandemic dining experience, and it was magical. I hoped to relive some of that magic, but unfortunately I was too late. Though they had an amazing outdoor cabana, they were already done with dine-in and not serving any cocktails. 

So my partner and I ordered a virgin Pina Colada to go and had their fantastic food on our porch at home. I will be back for a real cocktail once the restrictions are lifted. 

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Here We Go Again: Lockdown 2.0

 Almost as soon as I thought things were starting to get better, when restrictions seemed to be loosening and I felt more and more comfortable going out, the city of Portland went right back into lockdown. 

Just the week before, I had done the two things I was most looking forward to post-pandemic: Olympus Spa and Proud Mary. 

Olympus Spa is a Korean Spa with locations in Tacoma and Lynwood, just south and north of Seattle. Ever since my first trip there in 2016, I have fallen in love with that place and try to go every time I am in Seattle. Unfortunately I didn't make it there before the lockdown in March, and I was dreaming of going ever since. 

After eight months of closure, finally in October they announced they would reopen with a myriad of restrictions: 50% capacity reduction, appointment only, had to wear a mask at all times (even in the pools), temperature check at the door, signed consent form, everything sanitized, etc. But I didn't care - I wanted to go. So on a Thursday I called them up and booked the earliest appointment for Monday. I took off work and drove 3 hours north just for a day at the spa. 

It was amazing. Even though my mask got wet. Even though breathing through a wet mask made me feel like I was being waterboarded. I still got to go in all the heated pools, savor the dry sauna, enjoy a decadent lunch at their Korean restaurant, hang out in the heated rooms, and get a full body scrub. And even better, I got to do it all with my best friend. 

On the way back from Seattle I also got to check out a new cafe in the area: Olympia Roasters. We went to their flagship store in Olympia which is usually packed. 

Emboldened by my success at the spa, I booked long-awaited reservations at the newly opening dining hall of Proud Mary. In December of last year I had taken a dear friend from Japan to Proud Mary and had been savoring their  flat white and toast with scrambled eggs ever since. During the lockdown Proud Mary was offering takeout and delivery, but not their flat white and  toast with scrambled eggs. So I waited and waited and finally made reservations and had my first in-door dining experience since March. 

Again, it was wonderful. The food and flat white were exactly as I remembered. We even sat at the exact same table I sat at with my friend a year ago. I also appreciated the reduced capacity and 6-ft distance from other diners because the place was packed and I felt like I had a lot more space and privacy than before. 

I was lucky to have these two incredible experiences before lockdown 2.0. Now Olympus Spa is closed again, and Proud Mary is back to takeout only. I am sad that this joy did not last, but grateful that I got to experience it while I could. 

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!

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