Coastal Journey to Portland:
While I absolutely fell in love with Seattle, I was excited to drive down the coast and finally experience Portlandia (I am sure people from Portland hate this name, but I am a big fan of the show). While the drive from Seattle to Portland is only 3.5 hours, we decided to take the longer, more aesthetically pleasing coastal route and stop by some nice seaside towns on the way to Portland. It was surprisingly difficult to figure out what route to take because there was so much conflicting information online.
Many people had said that the coastal route is boring and that one should go through the mountains instead. For people who aren’t used to the ocean, evergreen trees, or mountains, the coastal route was exciting and gorgeous. I was absolutely moved by the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. The mountains, the lush evergreen trees, and gorgeous blue water was intensely satisfying. It was so beautiful that it made me feel quite emotional. You don’t have to be a nature lover who camps and hikes to appreciate the breathtaking views of the Pacific Northwest.
1st Stop: Olympia, Washington
Olympia is the capital of Washington, but like most capitals, it is not a bustling urban mecca but quite small and cozy. We stopped by their vibrant Saturday farmers market and imbibed many international scents ranging from Indian masala to Mexican tacos. I was absolutely impressed with the assortment of peppers that they had. They had a variety of vibrant, spicy, and sweet peppers. We also enjoyed the insanely fresh donut peaches. I had never heard of donut peaches prior to visiting Seattle but now I am in love with that peach.
2nd Stop: Astoria, Oregon
As we drove closer to the coast from Olympia and were entering Oregon, the views became indescribably gorgeous. We decided to stop in this small seaside town for dinner. Astoria has a a few microbreweries and plenty of seafood restaurants considering that it is right off the coast. It’s a cozy, hilly town with incredible views of the Pacific Ocean. It was also quite happening on a Saturday night with long waits at some of the restaurants. We decided to eat at a seafood restaurant, which had fresh seafood but it was pretty mediocre, which is why I won’t waste my time writing about it.
After watching Portlandia for the past 8 years, I envisioned Portland to be this vegan mecca with hipsters happily riding their bicycles while brewing their own Kombucha. It was quite a vegan mecca with plenty of bicyclists, but I didn’t see more hipsters than I see in any other city, maybe I wasn’t in the right places or maybe I have been in Logan Square (Chicago) for too long.
Portland felt quite spread out and like a combination of small towns. There were so many residential areas with random bars and restaurants at the corner that it didn’t feel like a city to me. The downtown area didn’t even feel like a downtown area – it felt quite chill and easy going. Seattle felt like a big city, but I didn’t get that city feel in Portland, which isn’t a bad thing. I guess I had expected it to feel more urban. It is very green with beautiful parks like the Japanese Gardens and Rose Gardens. I loved how these parks and gardens are a part of the city rather than being a 1 hour long drive from them (in the case of Chicago).
While Portland has plenty of dive bars located in unassuming street corners, it has quite a thriving international food scene. Not only do they have amazing vegan and vegetarian food, they have a prominent Indian and Vietnamese food scene. I also had Swedish food there, which is not really a popular European cuisine in the U.S., so that was refreshing. Did I fall in love with Portland the way I fell in love with Seattle? No. But I am so happy I was able to experience Portland in its sustainable, vegan glory.
Neighborhood: NE Alberta
Vegetarian Options Rating: ★★★1/2
Pescatarian Options Rating: ★★★★
Food Quality: ★★★★★
Overall Rating: ★★★★1/2
We were staying in the vibrant and happening Alberta Arts District where there were plenty of restaurants, cafes, boutiques and bars. Being a Francophile, I was thrilled to see that there was a French restaurant serving brunch a few minutes from where I was staying so we of course went to brunch at Petite Provence Boulangerie and Patisserie. The restaurant was quite crowded for Sunday brunch and the host/servers were a bit frazzled because of it. We sat at the bar and our bartender provided us with excellent service. If you don’t want to sit at the restaurant, you can just order pastries and desserts at the counter. Petite Provence had the interior of a French Bistro, it was bright with a lot of white and cute chairs paired with small tables.
Petite Provence has unique Mimosa and Bloody Mary flights, which we had to take advantage of. I love Bloody Marys – who can resist that tomato juice with olives?! The bloody mary flight came with four sample sizes of Bloody Marys, some spicier than others. They were pretty boozy so we had to stir them more to to appreciate the tomato juice. These were decent, but not really exceptional.
Their food though, was quite exceptional. All of their breakfast meals come with a choice of croissant or toast. I of course chose the croissant and it was gigantic, flaky, and fresh – everything you typically desire in a croissant. It was buttery and doughy with a strawberry jam that was also very fresh and not overly sweet. I couldn’t finish it though because I needed to save room for the actual entrée. I ordered the Wild Northwest Salmon Hash, which was a savory, acidic delight. The smoked salmon was smoky and salty served with sautéed leeks, capers, fresh hash-browns, two poached eggs and a lemon-dill sauce. The portion was humongous and a great deal for $14.50. The flavors all complemented one another and the leeks went perfectly with the salmon. The lemon-dill sauce was creamy and subtle.
My dining companion had the Eggs Provencal, which had perfectly poached eggs, fresh basil pesto, roasted tomatoes, and melted mozzarella. It came with crispy, roasted potatoes and butternut squash. The pesto was pungent and savory. Both of these dishes were excellent and it was so hard to only choose two dishes because there were so many other attractive looking dishes on the menu that were vegetarian and pescatarian-friendly. I wanted to go back here for dinner but we didn’t get a chance to. I definitely do plan on coming back here if I am in Portland because they serve affordable, delicious, French food.
Wine Quality: ★★★★★
Overall Rating: ★★★★1/2
As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, I am a lover of wine and the Pacific Northwest has an impressive collection of wineries. Since we were doing our touristy thing downtown walking on Burnside Bridge, navigating the impressive book collection at Powell’s, and exploring downtown parks, we came across a little wine bar that was featuring local wine from Oregon and tropical wine from Hawaii. I prefer dryer, red wines so I didn’t get to try the Hawaiian wine.
We did a tasting of three red wines, which cost around $12 for single ounce pours. Our sommelier was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the wine. My favorite wine that we tried was the Marechal Foch (Oregon), it was “danky” as described by the sommelier and pungent. I’ve never had a wine like that before, but I was quite impressed. If you’re looking for a break from walking around, stop by Portland Wine Bar and try some danky, red wine!
Neighborhood: Goose Hollow
Vegetarian Options Rating: ★★★★★
Food Quality: ★★★★1/2
Overall Rating: ★★★★
My vegan friends had enthusiastically recommended Vtopia as this magical place with amazing vegan cheese. They were right, I was extremely impressed with the collection of vegan cheeses and how affordable everything was here. It’s a more casual order at the counter type of restaurant with limited indoor and outdoor seating. It was a lovely summer night so we sat outdoors and it was quite pleasant. The server was a bit stressed out and gave me the wrong wine, but it wasn’t the end of the world and they got our food order right, which matters more.
Vtopia has about 10 different kinds of vegan cheese and you can make your own vegan cheese plate, which comes with dolma (kind of random), carrots, radishes, and an assortment of berries. We ordered the dill havarti, smoked gouda, and Bourbon Cheddar. The bourbon cheddar was the best – it was creamy and tasty. The smoked gouda and dill havarti were good but I didn’t really taste a lot of smokiness in the gouda.
They also have a make your own vegan macaroni and cheese option with sautéed onions and a vegan cashew based cheese sauce with breadcrumbs, soy curl bacon bits, and green onions. This was the best vegan mac and cheese I have ever had. It was so creamy and the flavors were savory and delightful. I loved the texture and smokiness of the soy curl bacon bits along with the breadcrumbs. We added the fried buffalo tofu to the dish, which came with a fiery spicy buffalo sauce. It was hard to stop eating this dish! It was a bowl of vegan comfort food.
We also tried their BLT, which came with fresh sourdough bread, veganaise, tomato, lettuce, and stellar shiitake bacon. The shiitake bacon was the best vegetarian bacon I have ever had. It was the crispiest bacon substitute I have tried and it tied everything together. I cannot remember the last time I had a BLT, but this really satisfied that itch. Vtopia is an affordable, casual paradise for vegans with amazing cheeses and plant-based meat. I wish they had one of these in Chicago because we need more vegan options!
– Eager for more of Portland? Stay tuned for my Portland Part 2 Blog Post next week!