Cherry Blossom in Portland

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My friend Deb and I flew up to Portland, Oregon, last weekend and stayed with my BFF Maya, and had an ah-mazing time.

We were incredibly blessed that it was sunny and warm (even hot at times) during our stay, despite the heavy rain the city experienced only few days prior. We were told that this was, hands down, the best weekend there in many, many month! Even the cabin attendant had to make a disclaimer that it’s not an April Fool’s joke that we can expect an unusually pleasant weather once we land in PDX.

We didn’t do much, other than eat good food and vegged out at home, which is exactly what Deb and I needed to relax and unwind. My favorite part of the trip, aside from catching up with my girl friends, is seeing rows and rows of Sakura trees and their lovely, pink petals dancing on the streets of Portland.

We went into this little speciality beauty shop called Blush Beauty Bar on the trendy NW 23rd Street (aka “trendy” third) and I fell in love with a bottle of this Cherry Blossom scent from Demeter.  I’ve tried different Cherry Blossom fragrances, including ones from Jo Malone, Bath and Body Works and L’Occitane, but this has to be my favorite I’ve tried so far.  It’s light and floral, and you immediately transport yourself to spring with just one spray.

And even more spring-y, are these designer chocolate bars from Moonstruck.

Special Delivery: Pix Patisserie

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Big thanks to my BFF Maya for making my 25th birthday (celebrating for the 152,027th time) very special, with a surprise delivery of lovely assortment of macarons from Pix Patisserie in Portland, Oregon! Because they were shipped from her (as opposed to from the store), some of the little lovely cookies cracked, but they were still delicious nonetheless!

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Absolutely love the flavor guide! What a cute idea.

(Food) Marathon Weekend Part 3: Chez Maya

Of all the wonderful restaurants in Portland, my ultimate favorite is Chez Maya, also known as my best friend Maya’s dining room.biggrin After every marathons and half marathons, she and her family invite me and my fiancé over to their home in the Portland suburb for a celebratory dinner of T-Bone steak and all the side dishes that will make any hungry soul swoon. It’s a ritual that has gone on for the last three years, and one I hope will continue for many years to come.

By watching the way Maya dances in the kitchen, one would never believe that this is someone who didn’t really cook all that much until about five years ago. Now, she’s one of the most amazing home cooks I know, whipping up amazing dishes and desserts you can only find in fine, gourmet restaurants. And what makes her even more amazing is that she is not afraid of butter. Not afraid at all.

This night, after completing the half marathon in Portland, was no exception. She cooked T-Bone steaks for everyone who surrounded the table – me, my fiance, Maya, her husband Shaun, their son Joe, her sister Tania, Tania’s baby boy Caden, and of course, Solomon, a pit bull with the heart of gold (though he only got a few pieces). She cooked my steak perfect medium rare, and loaded everyone’s plates with roasted carrots, potatoes, and zucchinis. She even made my favorite fried potatoes that taste 100 times better than any French fries out there. She said that the secret is in the Indonesian margarine that she uses (though I am convinced that it’s pure lardlol).

She even prepared us chocolate molten cake for dessert, with the center so warm and velvety, the melted chocolate just ooze out of the cake! Talk about a heavenly dessert!

I cannot thank Maya and her family for their warm hospitality and making us feel special every time we visit.

And yes, we were in food coma for the rest of the weekend.  I don’t think I’m ready to go back to the real world … just not yet …

(Food) Marathon Weekend Part 2: Papa Hayden

Last weekend’s Portland Half Marathon was one of the most fun I’ve had in running races! There was absolutely no pressure for me to perform well (not that there ever is an expectation for a turtle like myself lol) and knowing that I was only doing this race purely for fun helped me relax and actually enjoy the experience. Thinking about all the delicious food I get to eat afterward also helped me stay super excited during the 13.1-mile run.

My time is not considered great at 2 hours and 51 minutes, but I was extremely pleased with the result since all I wanted was to run under three hours. But more so than time, I was delighted with the way I felt during and after the race. My feet felt lighter than usual and I felt like I had some energy left even after I crossed the finish line, which made me believe that I can shave off a few minutes on my next half marathon in two weeks.

I think it really helped that I trained for this race for the last eight weeks (unlike my last Portland Marathon), logging about 15 to 20 miles per week. I didn’t necessarily follow any formal training, but my friends Tiffany, Shannon, and I were good with doing mid-week runs at Rose Bowl. Having great running buddies really does make a difference! I am so thankful for the lovely ladies for pushing me to lace up my running shoes, even when I was feeling incredibly lazy and unmotivated!

My fiancé and Maya were waiting for me at the finish line which made me incredibly happy. After I took pictures with the medal and relaxed a little, we invited Tiffany and Jesse for brunch at Papa Hayden.

I was hungry but my body was a bit too tired to eat a heavy dish like Eggs Benedict (that almost everyone at the table ordered), so I settled for a shrimp salad and French onion soup that my fiancé and I shared. The soup was amazing, with the perfect amount of cheese melted on top, but the salad was just okay. I wish I ordered a waffle or bread pudding that caught my eyes in the beginning.

The desserts were absolutely fantastic, as usual. My favorite was Baked Alaska. The airy and sugary meringue certainly hit the sweet spot for me. Although the desserts were meant to be shared, I think I polished the plates all by myself! But that’s okay because I just run a half marathon!  And I intend to use the excuse for at least the next several weeks … or even months. twisted

(Food) Marathon Weekend Part 1: Park Kitchen

My fiancé and I spent a lovely three-day weekend in Portland. We flew there for my half marathon but really, that was only an excuse to go visit my best friend Maya and enjoy the wonderful cuisines of the Pacific Northwest. lol There is nothing more wonderful than fresh, locally-grown organic produces of autumn exquisitely prepared by master chefs, and there is no better place to enjoy them than PDX!

After we landed in Portland and had a great lunch at Pok Pok Noi with Maya and her son Joe who picked us up at the airport, my fiancé and I headed to Park Kitchen for our double date with our friend Tiffany and her boyfriend Jesse for our non-stop food fest. After Paley’s Place, this is probably my second favorite restaurant in Portland. The food here is always so amazing, and I love that I get to try new unique dishes every time, depending on the month of the year I visit!

We opened a few bottles of perfectly-matched wine (thanks to Jesse’s expert wine guidance) and ordered the Small Cold Plates and Large Plates samplers to share, where we got to experience a handful of seasonal specialties. This is truly a perfect option for anyone who simply cannot choose from so many amazing items on the menu!

To start, we enjoyed (clockwise starting from the upper left) a plate of grilled bread with raw quail egg, cheese blocks, and frisee salad; Indian-inspired salad with papadum and curry-flavored chick peas on the bed of green; grilled corn and green bean salad (if I remember correctly, the black thing at the bottom was some sort of fungus … sounds strange but it was delicious); and razor clam with roasted pepper and what tasted like sliced fennel or celery root tossed in vinaigrette dressing.

Next, we ate watermelon and beet salad on the bed of sweet yogurt-like cream with peanut brittles on top; yellowtail sashimi tossed with grilled zucchini, tomatoes, and wonderfully bitter green; and baby octopus with grilled shishito peppers and simple tomato sauce.

For the Hot Plates, we got the following: Homemade beet Pappardelle, carrots, and Brussels sprout cooked in beet butter, and topped with creme fraiche; grilled sturgeon with wine reduction sauce; pork belly with spatzel (German pasta) and squash puree; rib-eye steak with wasahi flower sauce with grilled shishito peppers and roasted tomato with breadcrumbs.

For dessert, we devoured the decadent chocolate cake with a scoop of chocolate ice cream, and a slice of cheesecake with peeled grapes.

Our reservation was at 5:00 p.m. (a total early-bird special) because I wanted to go to bed early to ready myself for the half marathon the next morning but we ended up spending three and a half hours at the restaurant! With more glasses of wine than I anticipated (but loved every drop), I knew that I was going to pay for it at the race … but I didn’t care because this dining experience was SO worth it!

Park Kitchen
422 NW 8th, Portland, OR
★★★★★

Papa Knows Best: Papa Hayden

Six months ago, my best friend Maya and I ventured across the ocean for the Parisian version of the girls on the town. We spent ten blissful days soaking in the beauty of the city, and eating up everything in sight! We often talk about doing it again but returning to France so soon is a little out of our reach at the moment, so we decided to recreate the experience in another amazing city – in Portland, Oregon. Lucky for me, Maya and her family live in this Pacific Northwest city and I didn’t have to cross the ocean to see my BFF.

I love Portland the way I love Paris (evident here). It may not have famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, but Portland is an amazing culinary city with many talented chefs whipping up equally impressive dishes. In some cases, the food in the Pacific Northwest may be better than in France.

Papa Hayden, a restaurant and dessert lover’s heaven, located in Northwest Portland (there are two Papa Hayden in Portland and this one is considered the “Westside” location), is a place that can rival any bistros in Paris. Depending on what you order, the dishes may even be better – like the Steak Frites (lovely medium rare steak with compound butter and a side of French fries) out of the daily special that I ordered for lunch.  It was much better than the steak and fries that I’ve experienced anywhere!

Maya’s Braised Lamb with spring onion, wild cress, carrots, and baby potatoes was as impressive. Serviced on a white lopsided plate bowl, the dish made us feel like we were dining in a lovely corner bistro in the streets of St. Germain again.

And anyone who thinks American dessert chefs play second fiddle to French masters, they’re mistaken. Just take a look at these sweet creations and you’ll be able to taste the creativity, master artistry, and the commitment to beautiful plating.  (Check out more Papa Hayden dessert creations here.)  Everything here is very impressive!

I know that Maya and I will return to Paris someday but for now, Portland will do. And it will do very, very well.

Bitter Salty Experience: Cafe Castagna, Portland

castagna-frontWhile I love the sunny Southern California weather, I sometime crave the cool, crisp air of the Pacific Northwest. And the food. Don’t get me started on food.

For me, the fresh, seasonal organic dishes of the Northwest — that allow you to enjoy the food at its purest and finest form — is what cooking and eating is all about.  My body even yearns for it if I don’t get a dose of it regularly, as if I’m drowning and my life depended on the gasp of fresh oysters on half shell.  It was like someone tossed me a buoy when I was given a chance to visit Portland for business.  So I quickly extended the trip a few days to spend the Memorial Day weekend with my best friend, Maya, and her lovely family, to catch up and explore all the cullinary treasures this place has to offer.

With that said, my expectation for Café Castagna was high, given that this local favorite has earned numerous recognitions, including Best Burger.  Perhaps that was the problem that I don’t eat burgers (or that Carl’s Jr. ranked as #2 on this poll) because the food I experienced here was mediocre at best.

We began the night with the oysters (to calm my cravings), aranchinis, little fried risotto balls with cheese in the center that resemble little oranges, steamed mussels and a plateful of fries. The oysters tasted like ocean and the grated fresh horseradish added a great kick to the flavor, but they weren’t extraordinary. I wished they made the rice balls with more well-seasoned risotto for the aranchinis, instead of the bland, flavorless rice. Fries were probably the best dish here, which, unfortunately, says a lot about the entire dining experience.

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Aranchinis, oysters and fries

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Steamed Mussels

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Asparagus Soup

What was most disappointing was the plate of orecchiette, a petite ear-like pasta, tossed with bitter broccoli rabe and breadcrumbs, with a sprinkle with cheese, that I ordered for dinner. It was even recommended by our server as her “favorite.”  The dish was so salty that I couldn’t get past the first bite. I hate to take the food back but it was absolutely not edible so I asked the server to remake it with less salt, and all I got back was the same, salty pasta, with a little side of attitude.  It was so bad that I didn’t even bother taking pictures.

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Bangers and Mash

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Cod

I was bummed about my dinner (or lack thereof) and left the restaurant still hungry and unsatisfied, but it seems like everyone else’s weren’t bad.  But it was a general consensus that the entire dining experience at Café Castagna was just okay, and not the perfect representation of the culinary-rich Downtown Portland restaurant scene. But that’s okay because I still had fun with great friends, and still have a few days in Portland to cut the losses and get back into the gluttony game.

Café Castagna
1758 SE Hawthorne Blvd., Portland, OR 97214
★★★☆☆