August 25, 2007

I dig Portland

One of the striking things about visiting other cities can be when you find a common connection that makes a place feel like home. I'm not talking about the homogenization of American culture, with Walmarts, Chilis, and Cheesecake Factories on every corner. Rather, every so often you visit a place where the collective ethos of the place, while not identical, will share a deep kinship with the communitiy you are used to back at home. Seattle has been that way in many respects for me -- with an awareness of things like food, wine, and the environment -- making the transition from the Bay Area a bit easier.

Portland is another one of those places where I feel at home, even though I know very little fundamentally about it (other than the surprising amount of traffic that can collect at its prime transportation corridors). In a couple of recent visits, we've taken time to hang out at Powell's, enjoyed some pretty delicious moules frites at Everett Street Bistro, and had disturbingly inexpensive but pleasantly delectible sushi and fantastic udon (though the broth was way too salty) at Sushi Land.

On my most recent trip to Portland for work, I wanted to try one of the Pearl District's well-regarded spots, Park Kitchen. PK has been around since 2005, opening at a time when its garage-door entry and cozy copper bar were as much of a statement as the cuisine coming out of the kitchen. For an outsider like me, PK seems to exist as Pearl District anchor, elevating the importance of ingredients and seasonality in a neighborhood still dealing with that delicate, often conflicted balance of innovative/progressive redevelopment and gentrification.

PK is like a a melange of some of my favorite places in the Bay Area. Not having time for a full dinner, I opted for a "snack" of beet and watermelon salad with shaved redmondo, fried green beans and bacon (!) with tarragon aioli, and a fantastic Citadelle martini, straight up. The green beans evoked memories of Bizou (although not as refined or crispy... but man, fried bacon?? they don't mess around in the Northwest), the martini and bar reminded me of Absinthe, and the seasonal salad was very Cesar-esque. Plus Larry (a gent growing corn in his back yard) and Gretchen (a fellow transplant to the Northwest from California) provided ample friendly chatting for this lone traveller until it was time to catch my train back to Seattle.

Simple and satisfying, PK is definitely the kind of place that makes you settle in to a city... and quite comfortably at that. I'll be back again to see how Larry's corn is doing.

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