Trip Daze: Portland’s Best Tastes and Sights

Portland CollageForget San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle. The West Coast’s premier culinary destination is much more modest. Portland may seem a very “vanilla” town, but in our four days there, we had everything from vegan doughnuts to Cuban tapas, French bites to Iraqi-Jewish street food, Thai cuisine to Lebanese specialties, gluten-free beer to homemade kombucha. (Heck, we even went salsa dancing at an underground club. Check out Andrea’s Cha Cha Cha Club in the Industrial District, and prepare to be intimidated by some serious salsa movers and shakers.) The food stand culture alone is a fascinating display of the independent-minded spirit of this town. Areas of specialty food stands pop up like mini housing developments devoted to nothing other than neighborliness and nourishment. Portland’s lack of big chains allows for healthier competition among these smaller operations, meaning it’s damn hard to find a dud. And it’s damn hard to empty your wallet in the process (ie. the food here is cheap!). But aside from eating and drinking, there’s the grand Powell’s Books, the vibrant International Rose Test Garden, and even one of the U.S.’s few bungee jumping spots just an hour north of the city. Follow our journey through Portland below and discover the charms, the thrills, and the amazing treats it has to offer.

EATS!

Pambiche Cocina & Reposteria Cubana
2811 NE Glisan St.

PambichePortland is some 2,700 miles from Cuba, but the vibrantly colored and muraled building housing Pambiche plants you in the heart of Havana (or at least maybe Miami). Happy hour here is a steal, from the flaky-crusted empanadas to the light and juicy Ensalada Caribena (a cabbage slaw tossed with fresh citrus and herbs and just $3.50 for a big bowl of it) to the Ropa Vieja, a dish of shredded beef in tomato broth ($4.50). The Yuca Frita and Maduros (fried plantains) were on the dry side, but nothing a Cerveza Cristal or Periodista (AKA “The Journalist,” a cocktail or rum + passion fruit liqueur + orange juice + lime) can’t fix.

The Hazel Room
3279 SE Hawthorne Blvd.

The Hazel RoomWe stumbled upon this charming place and found it to be a must for brunch. Outdoor seating is ideal when it’s sunny, of course, and so is a mimosa with grapefruit juice or a coffee with a generous $2 side of whiskey. For brunch, go for the Chorizo & Potato Hash Scramble (pictured to the left) served with a hearty pile of gluten-free toast, or the Tallboy (a pulled pork, egg, and portabella mushroom squeezed between a buttery biscuit).

Sweet Hereafter
3326 SE Belmont St.
A rustic, woodsy bar with bites, with a large open seating area in the back, Sweet Hereafter is so cozy we even saw a few people reading (with real books in hand!) at the rather dimly lit bar. The Omission gluten-free pale ale (from local brewmasters the Widmer Brothers) was a good (and strong!) choice here, and if I were to go back I’d definitely try a dessert or entrée, like the health-boosting “Precious Bowl” of coconut kale, black beans, and brown rice.

Wolf and Bear’s
3925 N. Mississippi Ave.

Wolf & Bear'sHead out to Mississippi Avenue for great boutiques, brewpubs, and most importantly, Wolf and Bear’s, a modest food stand tucked away behind a foliage-covered fence. Here you’ll find food you’ll want to scarf down with the animalistic intensity its name suggests. This is some of the best Middle Eastern cuisine this side of the Mississippi (River, that is) and the dinner bill for two people came out to a mere $17, two 12oz Lion Heart Kombuchas (one a combo of lemonade and Kombucha) included. Get the $7 Sabich (the Iraqi-Jewish traditional breakfast) or for smaller appetites go for the Lil’ Critter with a side of falafel. The pita wraps are soft, fresh, and warm and sturdy enough to absorb all the nutrition inside. Don’t forget the hot sauce, more freshly herbaceous than tongue-waggingly hot. Heck, stop here and you may end up in a Portlandia episode. Rumor was they were filming there just hours before we discovered the spot.

Petite Provence

Petite Provence Alberta
1824 NE Alberta St.
For a slice of France, hit up Petite Provence (there are a few locations throughout PDX). Rich pastries and desserts will lure you in, but the dinner menu offers a great array of “petite entrees” perfect for tapas-style sharing.

Cheryl’s on 12th
1135 SW Washington Street
With a more upscale diner feel, this downtown spot is ideal for brunch (it’s also a market and bakery). Our waitress was sweet and attentive, and the housemade granola with Greek yogurt and fresh berries is a top-notch choice.

Voodoo Doughnut & Stumptown Coffee
22 SW 3rd Ave. / 128 SW 3rd Ave

VoodooThe talk of the town (and the Food Network), Voodoo Doughnut was our first stop from the airport, a perfect late breakfast to kick off our culinary tour through Portland. Situated in the grungier bowels of Chinatown, directly across the street from Dante’s, the building with KEEP PORTLAND WEIRD plastered on its side (apt scenery while chowing down on say, the “Cock-N-Balls” doughnut), Voodoo has become the Voodoo Boxtourist destination of downtown. Expect a wait of at least 30 minutes. Grab a cup of coffee at Portland’s revered Stumptown Coffee Roasters just down the street on 3rd Avenue to wire up before your sugar rush. Once reaching the inside, it’s a bit intimidating – and hypnotizing, watching the doughnuts swivel around in their glass-encased showcase tube – as you stare up at the big board of endless possibilities, from oreo-crumbled to cereal-encrusted to cream-filled to vegan. We recommend the Portland Cream, Bacon Maple Bar, or Vegan Coconut.

THRILLS & SIGHTS!

Bungee Jumping (One hour from Portland)
NE Healy Rd. and NE Belvins Rd.
Amboy, WA 98601

bungeecollageYep, that’s us, just jumping 20 stories off of a bridge. In the rain. One of the few bungee spots in the U.S. — and just one hour north of Portland (and near Mt. St. Helens for another road trip hotspot) — this Pacific Northwest bridge is used specifically for scaring the bejeezus out of anyone who dares step into a harness. It’s a great first jump for anyone who hasn’t bungee’d before and the guys of Bungee.com have enough jovial death jokes to keep you on edge as you reach the edge. And, yes, it’s much scarier, ballsier, and more exhilarating than skydiving.

Moulton Falls Regional Park
Yacolt, WA

2013-08-25 17.33.03Near Vancouver, Washington, just across the border — and on the way to bungeeing or Mt. St. Helens — this fertile area offers hiking and biking trails along the crystal-clear Lewis River. Watch for the (small) waterfall just to the right of the main parking area.

International Rose Test Garden
850 SW Rose Garden Way

International Rose Test GardenWe took our pink Voodoo Doughnut box (“Good things come in pink boxes”) a few miles west to Washington Park, home to Portland’s International Rose Test Garden. A picnic of doughnuts made under the suggestive slogan of “The magic is in the Hole!” seemed somewhat poetic among the fields of precious, pristine roses. Portland takes its roses quite seriously (you’ll see references to them all over the city), and on these “testing grounds” you’ll find over 500 some varieties. There’s even a miniature rose section and a Shakespeare one, which was, as the garden’s website says, “originally designed to include only herbs, trees and flowers mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays.” After strolling through the test gardens, you can also stroll through the Portland Japanese Garden (for an admission price).

SWEET DREAMS!

Hotel Modera
515 SW Clay St.

Hotel ModeraThis self-proclaimed luxury boutique hotel in the heart of downtown is indeed luxurious. The location is ideal, close to the Portland Saturday Market and the Pearl District, with easy access to all the bridges. The decor is sleek and modern, but not at all stuffy. Our king-sized bed was a little too comfortable, lined with a pillow-top mattress and smooth designer linens. The marbled bathroom adds another palatial touch and we couldn’t get enough of the Tarocco bath products, made with Italian blood oranges and olive oil. There’s also a great outdoor seating area adjacent to the hotel’s restaurant. It’s a great place to chat, relax, read, or strategize the day’s plans.

AND, A FEW SILLY SIGNS

PDXSigns

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SPIN Album Reviews

I’ve written album reviews for the longstanding and acclaimed music publication SPIN, both for their (now-deceased) print and online editions. Check ’em:

Savages, Silence Yourself
Published: May 6, 2013

As their band name implies, Savages are imploring us to get in touch not so much with our brains as with our viscera; the quartet itself feels like one living entity, negotiating the interplay of its various parts. Physically, drummer Fay Milton and bassist Ayse Hassan thump manically yet steadily, like a heart that’s just been defibrillated back to life; the emotions are supplied by guitarist Gemma Thompson’s wailing guitar and Beth’s feverish cries, both of them alternately overtaken by utter pain yet hell-bent on inflecting it.

Johnny Marr, The Messenger
Published: February 27, 2013

No conversation about indie rock can go long without paying homage to the Smiths, and more specifically, Johnny Marr. That pristine Rickenbacker jangle, that juxtaposition of upbeat euphoria and dreamy melancholia wrapped in a flowing bow of chords — these sounds will be forever romanticized in youthful memories and Hollywood films, forever attempted by every sad-sack who ever picked up a guitar, if only just to impress a girl or a boy. But no matter how much money (or how little meat) any festival juggernaut offers, the Smiths ain’t getting back together.

Green Day, ¡Tré!
Published: December 13, 2012

¡Uno!, with rambunctious tracks like “Kill the DJ” and “Troublemaker,” was the trio shooting Patron with the kids; ¡Dos!, with its retro garage rock, soundtracked their purchase of a vintage Porsche 911. But ¡Tré! finds them finally facing reality: “Hey, little kid / Did you wake up late one day/ And you’re not so young, but you’re still dumb / And you’re numb to your old glory, but now it’s gone,” Billie Joe Armstrong howls on “X-Kid,” and it’s hard not to think X equals him.

Bloc Party, Four
Published: August 24, 2012

Four is closest in spirit to White Pony, frequently taking a dip in the “Digital Bath” and, with the help of At the Drive-In/Mars Volta producer Alex Newport, reveling in that sort of heavy, brooding, prog-plod precision: It’s the sound of Bloc Party evolving from confused kids to confident brutes ready for the attack.

The Ting Tings, Sounds From Nowheresville
Published: March 27, 2012

And while Nothing may have been somewhat bipolar, this follow-up crosses over to straight-up schizophrenic. Militaristic snare trills, punk-rock guitar, tolling bells, flaccid raps, elegiac strings, squelching synths, horn wails, a squeaky rocking chair, a reggae groove, a song that sounds straight out of Grease — it makes you wonder if Nowheresville is actually a sort of abandoned playground for deranged children.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
Published: November 8, 2011

What’s a year without a Gallagher brothers throwdown? Months after Liam and the rest of Oasis unveiled the score-settling Beady Eye, Noel gets in the ring with a sizable advantage (he did write the band’s hits) and a dedication to spreading the love instead of exacerbating the hate. His solo debut is hardly humble, though, from the dramatic strings flooding “Everybody’s on the Run” to the New Orleans brass dancing around the stretched-out vowels of “Dream On” and “The Death of You and Me.” “What a Life” gallops with a grandiosity that recalls Arcade Fire, and “Stop the Clocks” is a full-on orchestral-rock orgy. High Flying Birds isn’t a total knockout, but it should keep Liam sleeping with at least one Beady Eye open.

Future Islands, On the Water
Published: October 11, 2011

Baltimore’s Future Islands obviously were born with their ears pointed eastward to the theatrically heartbroken land of New Order, the Cure, and David Bowie. On this much-improved third album, synths swell, beats throb, and oceanic drones creep. Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner wafts through like a specter on “The Great Fire,” but Sam Herring is the true phantom of this synth-pop opera, still gruffly howling like he’s been forced to gargle rocks in the name of love — a subject that devastatingly plagues him — but also willing to settle into the grooves, even conceding that “it just takes time.”

Album Reviews, 2013

A few reviews, as appears on Rhapsody

Phoenix, Bankrupt!
imageFollowing breakout Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, the Frenchmen turn Japanese (at least on lead track “Entertainment,” which slightly recalls The Vapors’ ’80s hit) and then remind us how French they really are with a song about a men’s fragrance (“Drakkar Noir”). On Bankrupt!, Phoenix maintain that signature mix of fizzy and dreamy electro-pop that titillates as innocuously as a cold soda on a hot day. But this time they sound more on par with brethren Daft Punk: synths packed in tight and injected with caffeine, like on the early-Madonna-esque “Trying to Be Cool” and the sprawling title track.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Mosquito
imageOn the YYYs’ fourth album, Karen O sucks your blood, imagines she’s an alien, dreams of being buried alive, and gets caught without her MetroCard. And like a lonely night in the NYC she sings of on the train-track-thumping “Subway,” Mosquito feels dark, menacing and claustrophobic, but never lacking in around-the-corner suspense. The guitar squall of “Sacrilege” swoops up a gospel choir, “Under the Earth” floats on a dub groove, and “Buried Alive” gets Gorillaz-esque with help from Dr. Octagon and producer James Murphy. But dawn nears towards album’s end with a trio of sweet, sizzling ballads.

Youth Lagoon, Wondrous Bughouse
imageYouth Lagoon’s Trevor Powers is becoming a true prince of oddball solipsistic pop. Building much upon the minimalist sounds of 2011’s The Year of Hibernation, his second album dives into a chaotic world that we can only guess reflects an anxious, possibly tripping-out brain (“The devil tries to take my mind,” he coolly notes on “Mute”). Wondrous Bughouse wobbles in reverb as synths spiral around dizzyingly like a carousel flying off its axle. Every sound feels weightless, yet the overall texture is impenetrable, creating a hypnotic effect like My Bloody Valentine, at a carnival, under the sea.

Wavves, Afraid of Heights
image Wavves’ fourth album sounds like the ultimate alt-rock triad of 1994: Weezer, Green Day, Nirvana. Nathan Williams even works a gravelly Cobain snarl on “Dog” and “Demon to Lean On,” where the guitar apes “Lithium” and Williams talks of holding a gun to his head. Other statements: “We’ll all die alone, just the way we live/ In a grave”; “None of you will ever understand me.” Williams has a great sense of melody, sprinkling in surf touches too (those Beach Boy woos), but his music stays mostly loose and loud to mirror whatever’s going on in that tortured brain. Maybe he should lay off the weed?

Blue Hawaii, Untogether
imageThe Aloha State really should give this Montreal duo a cut: After taking in Blue Hawaii’s serene tropical pop, you’ll want to book a flight there stat, if only to have Untogether, their debut album, as your accompanying soundtrack. Lounge-y drum machine beats plop throughout, like droplets of water hitting sizzling skin; acoustic guitar gently punctuates gorgeous tracks like “Try to Be”; and synths flutter in and out like the sun playing peek-a-boo through the palm trees. Vocalist Raph Standell-Preston (also of Braids) guides it all along with hypnotic purrs as pure and sweet as sugar cane.

Foxygen, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic
imageLike retro psych-pop bands Tame Impala, Ariel Pink and MGMT, the music of Foxygen feels as cozily familiar as a pen pal from an exotic land you’ll never visit. The duo’s second album opens like Sgt. Pepper in a pub and ends like Abbey Road in a windstorm; “No Destruction” hints of The Velvet Underground; “Shuggie” emulates Bowie; and, generally, singer Sam France has Mick Jagger’s snarl down. To fit the vintage palette, there’s talk of pot, doors of consciousness and San Francisco, but perhaps the best, most timeless line is, “There’s no need to be an *sshole/ You’re not in Brooklyn anymore.”

Trip Daze: Palm Springs & Joshua Tree

*This was originally posted on my leisurely updated travel, culture + humor blog, Battle Mountain.*

I vowed to make 2012 a year to fully embrace my endless wanderlust. I think I did a pretty decent job. Here, I’ll attempt to prove just that. I’ll be running down my top travel adventures of 2012 … slowly but surely. In no particular order, here’s Vol. II, a trek south and inland to Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree Lean

There’s something mystical yet menacing about the desert. Maybe it’s all that dry air sucking out all the bullshit. Bullshit can’t survive in the desert — the sun would rot it too quickly, or, on a chilly night, the wind would just carry it all the way to, well, a place like L.A.

Maybe this sort of non-BS realness makes a place like the Mojave Desert especially eerie to us modern-day Internet dwellers. It forces us to rely on our own innate capacities and survival instincts (because once you reach the inner depths of Joshua Tree National Park, for example, that smartphone ain’t so smart anymore). And for that reason, Southern California’s Coachella Valley is a prime place to escape. And I’m not talking about to the music festival (been there. done that.) or the resorts or the spas or the outlet malls.

Desert Landscapes

Our trip to Palm Springs began, like most people, in L.A. Our drive involved a stop at Flappy Jack’s Pancake House (get the banana nut or multi-grain flapjacks!) on the tip of Route 66. Fully carb-fueled, we weaved our way through windmill-lined lanes; these mesmerizing roadside attractions almost immediately spin your mind into a more relaxed state.

Windmills and a Lone Joshua

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Trip Daze: New York City

*This was originally posted on my leisurely updated travel, culture + humor blog, Battle Mountain.*

I vowed to make 2012 a year to fully embrace my endless wanderlust. I think I did a pretty decent job. Here, I’ll attempt to prove just that. I’ll be running down my top travel adventures of 2012 … slowly but surely. In no particular order, here’s Vol. I, the last of my year’s adventures: THE BIG APPLE.

Handstanding in Times Square, 4AM, Dec. 30. The calm before the NYE storm.

Ah, New York City. No other metropolis can make you feel as little and insignificant as an obedient ant in a bustling farm, yet as big and bold and alive as a caged animal set free to roam the most exotic of concrete jungles. It’s noisy, hectic, and vibrant. It never sleeps, so neither should you (and we didn’t… much). Our adventure in NYC was a quick one, but never lacking in good times.

We took the Amtrak from Washington, D.C. to Manhattan’s Penn Station two days before New Year’s Eve. Along the route, it sleeted and snowed, meaning our last-minute decision to take the train vs. renting a car was a helluva good one, and I’d highly recommend this, even if it seems a bit pricey (for us it was $158/person).

Big Balls! Christmastime in Manhattan

We stayed in Times Square the first night. Ate at the famous Carnegie Deli (get the Woody Allen sandwich!), took in the pine-fresh scent of the tree at Rockefeller Center, drank fresh cocktails and tequila shots at the cozy and colorful Mexican spot Toloache in Midtown (I recommend the fresh blueberry and hibiscus-infused margarita), and got down to hot Latin sounds at the Copacabana (partly picked because of its one-block reach from our hotel).

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SXSW 2013

I covered the sounds, sights, and smells of SXSW this year (my 7th and likely final year attending!) for Rhapsody. Here were my half-dazed thoughts:

TEEN, Consequence of Sound Party, SXSW 2013

TEEN, Consequence of Sound Party, SXSW 2013

March 14, 2013

Here to prove you don’t need no stinkin’ badge, I came upon my first show at this year’s SXSW purely by chance as I strolled by Waterloo Records. Catching a whiff of some sweet-sounding, atonal sludge, I thought, “Wow, these guys sound like Nirvana!” I darted inside to find Chelsea Light Moving, Thurston Moore‘s newest musical pursuit. Ah, yes. That would make a whole lotta sense, wouldn’t it? Practically the whole ’90s has Sonic Youth to thank. Moore, 54, remains in fighting shape, offering up a tribute to hometown heroes Roky Erickson and The 13th Floor Elevators, and protest songs like “Groovy & Linda” and “Lip,” with his hair draping over slightly wearied eyes, his stance stoic save a pair of frantic guitar-wielding limbs. A young girl next to me exclaimed, “This band is making me sleepy,” and as if in retort Moore repeatedly began to scream “Too f*ckin’ bad!” I’m glad he said it before I had to.

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Rhapsody Indie Week

I helped spearhead this indie music extravaganza for Rhapsody, in preparation for the great juggernaut that is SXSW. It features 30+ articles (with help from a few freelancers).

The specific posts I created for Rhapsody Indie Week are listed below. Click on each to check out the full article + playlist + album reviews. And listen to some music while you’re at it!

*The Evolution (and Dissolution) of Indie
My thoughts on the state of indie music, more specifically my attempts to figure out exactly what “indie” means.

*Source Material: Radiohead, Kid A
A comprehensive dissection of Radiohead’s 2000 magnum opus via its influences, from Aphex Twin to Miles Davis.

*My Bloody Valentine, Loveless: Descendants
A deep dive into the wide-reaching influence of this seminal 1991 album.

*Indie’s Biggest Badasses
A list of the genre’s smartest, boldest, most positively resolute don’t-f*ckin’-mess-with-them-or-their-craft artists… Featuring Nick Cave, P.J. Harvey, Karen O and more.

*Cheat Sheet: Britpop
Future Anglophiles, this here is just a mere introduction to the great alternative music that came out of the U.K. at the end of the 20th century… Featuring Blur, Oasis, Suede and more.

*Senior Year, 1987-88: College Rock Cool
Celebrating the true cool kids of the mid-to-late ’80s, those who were listening to stuff that would influence a whole new generation of left-of-the-dial pursuers. No cassette deck necessary.

*Top 25 Indie Albums of 2012
My picks for the best of 2012, from Grimes to Santigold to Japandroids to Alt-J.

*The State of Punk 2012
From Canada to Sweden to London to Brooklyn to Cleveland to NorCal to SoCal, those who prefer their sonics shrill and their lyrics snarled were gifted a wealth of new noise to split ears (and probably some brain cells) to.

*Radio: ’00s Indie
Introducing my handmade radio station full of indie hotshots and underground faves.

*Source Material: Interpol, Turn on the Bright Lights
Celebrating the album’s 10th anniversary with a look at its influences: “Like a rich and well-versed study of post-punk’s most daring and innovative pioneers, the album helped kick start the genre’s revival.”

*Oh, and there’s lots more! Find the rest below under the main link:

21st-Century Psychedelia
Label Spotlight: Sub Pop Records, The Early Years
Label Spotlight: Sub Pop Records, The ’00s & Beyond
Senior Year, 2002: Electroclash Raverz
The Modern Goth Chick
Radio: Indie Now
Cheat Sheet: Post-Rock
Source Material: Beck, Odelay
Senior Year, 2006-’07: Animal Bands
Radio: ’90s Alternative
Cheat Sheet: Merge Records
Cheat Sheet: Matador Records