Tag Archives: portland

Wedding Dress Weekend

One bride, two days, three friends, four bridal boutiques, and (at least) five glasses of champagne. Add in some fancy restaurants and a chic hotel and you’ve got everything you need for the perfect weekend spent searching for the perfect dress.

It all started when my friend Kacy informed me that there was a BHLDN (pronounced beholden – Dutch for “to keep”) wedding shop in Portland. BHLDN is Anthropologie’s wedding collection and after spending approximately 2 minutes looking at the collection online, I knew I had to try on the dresses. All the dresses. And thus, the plans began to fall into place. When it was all said and done, we had a packed itinerary for a weekend of wedding dress shopping and some much needed friend time.

To be honest, I was not necessarily hopeful that I would find “the” dress, but I was confident I would find something beautiful and flattering and enough to make me happy. Really, the search to find a dress was mostly an excuse to get away to the city for a night and have some fun with friends. Oh, and to drink champagne. Finding a dress would just be a bonus. I had asked my groom if he had any preferences for the dress. His only request was a white dress. The italics might be foreshadowing.

Anyway, my friends – Kacy (also my matron of honor), Chelsea, and Dani – and I set out on a Saturday morning from Roseburg and headed toward Eugene. And although my friends Jessi and Shannon could not be there in person, they spent their entire weekends texting with Kacy about every single dress. Our first appointment was at Blush Bridal. I had been told by multiple people that this was the place to shop for a dress. I could immediately see why. From the moment we walked in, every one was friendly and the consultant I worked with was excited to help me find the perfect dress. It was a little overwhelming first, but this first stop helped me settle into narrowing down what I wanted, beginning to learn what looked best on me, and just generally getting used to having all the attention focused on me.

Don’t worry. None of the dresses pictured in this post are the actual dress I will be wearing on my wedding day.

I actually found two dresses that I loved, but did not feel quite ready to commit at the first boutique, so I made an appointment for the next day, expecting to return and finalize a dress purchase in Eugene before returning to Roseburg.

All that dress trying had worked up an appetite, so we made a quick stop for lunch at Mucho Gusto before beginning the drive to Portland.

Once in Portland we made a quick detour to check out Brides for a Cause.

This is a second hand bridal shop where proceeds go to charity. I think the experience there is likely to be a little hit or miss and for me it was a miss. But I did get a good laugh out of trying on a couple dresses that ended up looking unpredictably terrible on me. I love the concept and I am sure if I lived closer I would have given it another visit or two. No appointment was required, so it was easy to fit around the other activities of the weekend.

Next, it was off to check into the hotel before the final appointment of the day. I particularly love Kimpton Hotels, so when there was a suite sale, I jumped on the chance to book a suite at the Portland Hotel Monaco.

The quirky and stylish hotel did not disappoint. The suite was spacious and just perfect for a girl’s weekend.

We took a few minutes to settle in and kick up our feet before walking to the nearby Ania Bridal.

Ania Bridal was another fun experience, complete with the requisite champagne. It was here where I really narrowed down the style of dress I wanted, noting the similarities between what I liked best at Blush and what I like best here.

To be honest, when you’re the one trying on the dresses, you’re not really the one drinking the champagne.

More dresses, more champagne, more decisions to make. I was feeling good about being able to find a dress I loved this weekend, but was still pondering the options as we headed back to the hotel for the complimentary happy hour.

Every evening, there is a social hour featuring local wines and brews. And because Kimpton is pet friendly, there are always a few cute pups hanging out, too. We didn’t want to ruin our appetites, though. We had plans.

Because it was my wedding dress weekend, we went to my favorite restaurant, Lechon. I have extolled the delicious virtues of this place many times and this evening with friends was no exception.

I could leave it at that, but the food is too beautiful not to share, dish by dish. We shared a number of incredible dishes, enjoyed craft cocktails, and ended the meal with a bit of sweetness.

My favorite cocktail was not currently on the menu, so I branched out to the marecuzco – pisco, allspice dram, demerara, lime, and passionfruit
Avocado and smoked trout toast – it was even more yummy than it looks
Chickpea quinoa fritters
One of the two dishes I think should always be ordered at Lechon – the burrata. The accompaniments change seasonally. This evening it was poached apricots, prosciutto, lemon confit, and herbed toast. Simple perfection on a plate.
A salad so that we did not feel too bad about ourselves. And also because it was an ideal combo of goat cheese, cranberries, spiced pine nuts, and champagne vinaigrette.
The empanadas are my second “must order” dish. This evening, there was a spicy fried piquiollo pepper empanada and a milder but no less flavorful pork empanada.
And finally, another favorite, the grilled octopus.

With all of this, we even managed to save a little room for dessert.

I don’t even remember what this was or what was in it. But it was good.

We walked back to the hotel. I felt happy in a way that only the combination of a fancy meal and the energy of walking in a city after dark provide. We opened the bottle of champagne that had been cooling in the fridge (at the expense of the mini bottles now scattered across the floor to make room for the champagne) and pondered the pros and cons of the various dresses I had tried on that day.

We reviewed the texted feedback from Jessi and Shannon. We discussed our plans for the next day. And then things got a little, well, goofy… Because I like these people and want them to still be my friends, I will refrain from sharing the evidence. Other than this. Because the cool hotel robes must be modeled.

I’ll just leave it at that.

The next morning, my final bridal appointment was not until 11 am. That + being in Portland = brunch. Chelsea had recommended Mother’s Bistro and I am so glad she did.

It was classy and cozy. Most important of all, the food was incredible.

Chelsea and I shared a pot of gourmet french press coffee. We chose the one whose flavor description included “chocolate.”
Sharing a cinnamon roll the size of my head is generally a good way to start a meal
Bacon and gorgonzola frittata
Eggs Benedict
Salmon hash
And a scramble

Being friends means sharing each others’ food. At least in my book.

After a great brunch, we were ready for the last bridal appointment, the one that had prompted the whole trip – BHLDN. At this point, my plan was still to try on the pretty dresses just for fun and then exhaustively discuss which of the Blush dresses I wanted to purchase on the drive back to Eugene.

Located in a corner of the second floor of Anthropologie, BHLDN just felt right. I wanted to touch all of the dresses, not just look at them, as I sipped champagne out of bright pink can. And then I met my consultant, her Southern accent sounding so familiar that I couldn’t help but ask where she was from. Something about learning that she was also from Arkansas set me at ease and made the dress shopping experience even more fun.

The place had some seriously gorgeous gowns. I had one dress left to try on and felt like I had a sense of what I liked. Sure, I had not had that moment you see on TV shows and movies, but I was feeling good about what I had mostly decided to buy. Yes, there was one more dress to try, but I had chosen it solely because it was remarkably beautiful and I simply wanted to try it on because I could. It was obviously not going to be an option because it was decidedly not white and, after all, that had been Brandon’s single request. But how many times do you have an excuse to try on as many pretty dresses as you want? I was not considering in a million years that I would buy this dress. I just wanted to wear it for five minutes.

And then I tried it on and had that moment. I walked out and everyone’s face lit up. I stood in front of the mirror and started crying, choking out the words, “I want this dress” as my friends texted Brandon to reassure him that a not white dress would be okay when it was a dress as breathtaking as this one. My mom called the second she got the pictures of the dress to insist that I buy it. And Shannon and Jessi, who had been bombarded with pictures all weekend, texted this:

This dress was, unquestionably, the one. Sometimes I put it on and just stare at it in the mirror and I absolutely can’t wait to wear it next month. It is stunning. I blew my wedding dress budget without a second thought.

A successful weekend of wedding dress shopping called for celebratory sushi burritos. If you find yourself in the Eugene area, you will not regret stopping by this little drive through sushi stand.

Sushi burritos may sound strange, but they are legit tummy goodness.

I ordered the Black Widow – cajun sesame seared albacore tuna sashimi, crispy shrimp, crab, spicy cream cheese, cucumber, carrots, and seaweed salad served with a cajun sweet soy sauce. And I added avocado. I recommend everything about this.

We savored our meal, discussing our favorite parts of the weekend and continuing to marvel over the dress, the not white wedding dress that was meant to be. I am always amazed how a single night away can make a difference – getting out of the usual routine, enjoying delicious meals, and most of all spending time in the company of friends. I think I should do this more often, although perhaps without spending more than $1000 on a dress. That would buy a lot of sushi burritos.

Portland Weekend

I love living in Roseburg. I really do. I love my little house in a way I’ve never loved a collection of building materials combined to create a habitation. My 10 minute commute to work is amazing. The summer weather is everything sunny and perfect. I am surrounded by beautiful places. I love living in Roseburg.

However.

Roseburg does somewhat lack in the amenities department. True, there are some fantastic restaurants, but the options are limited. There is rather a dearth of cultural activities and date night options vary between the movie theatre and the bowling alley. I happily manage what Roseburg is missing with making any excuse to go to Portland for the weekend. In March, having some friends in town for a conference provided more than enough reason to leave my small town in southern Oregon for the big city of Portland.

Things I enjoyed in Portland that I cannot find in my little hometown included the food (of course), a chic hotel, and some iconic Portland sites, including a spot on my “Oregon bucket list.”

Because of a great deal on the HotelTonight app, we booked a room at the Hotel Eastlund in downtown Portland. This hotel had everything – style, comfort, amenities, and a great location with convenient location to the light rail.

There was even a great rooftop bar where we enjoyed sunset cocktails against the backdrop of the mountains in the distance.

Afterwards, we took a pleasant walk across the river into the Pearl District for dinner.

As I mentioned, I had friends coming into town for a conference. As the token Oregonian, I had chosen Irving Street Kitchen as the spot to meet for dinner. Pros: Excellent cocktails, an ideal location in the Pearl District, and great style. Plus, it was one of a handful of restaurants that easily took reservations for large groups.

We pretty much closed the place down – believe me, it was packed when we arrived. Even with a reservation there was a bit of a wait.

Cons: The food was solidly good, but not as wonderful as comparably priced restaurants in Portland and the service was slow.

Calamari and clams over squid ink risotto – perhaps I’ve been spoiled by Brandon’s risotto, but the squid ink seemed to add more novelty than flavor
Brandon shared that his steak was excellent and perfectly prepared

Even if Friday’s dinner slightly disappointed, we knew that Saturday morning we would get an unbeatable meal at our favorite restaurant – Le Chon. For the first time, we went there for brunch. It was not disappointing.

I’ve had many good meals in this place and hope there will be many, many more. If you go to Portland and have not eaten here, just do it. And maybe take me with you. And by that I mean definitely take me with you.
Oh my word. These were some type of apple fritter covered in honey with a side of marionberry butter. Oh. my. word.
Of course we had to get the empanadas. These are always a must, no matter the time of day.
Sometimes, just sometimes, he gets tired of waiting to eat until after I’ve taken pictures.
We chose a couple of entrees to share, one of which was the mushroom breakfast tacos.
My favorite was the chicken and biscuits – perfectly fried chicken (says the Southern girl) alongside a cheddar jalapeño biscuit topped with an egg and sausage gravy. This was legit.

Needing to walk off a few calories, we strolled along the river among the blossoming cherry trees before perusing the Portland Saturday Market.

And then!

And then we went to Powell’s.

Somehow, this book loving heart of mine had not managed to make it to this iconic Portland bookstore in the 2 1/2 years I had lived in Oregon. This was literally the biggest bookstore I had ever seen. I spent a blissfully undetermined amount of time (thank you, love) wandering among the maze of books, feeling both overjoyed and overwhelmed, inhaling deep breaths of the book smell, utterly content. It was perfection.

Although at heart, I will never be a city girl, I do love to spend some time there now and then doing all the city things that I miss. And Brandon, wonderful man that he is, tagged along for a weekend of some of my favorites.

SaveSave

SaveSave

Brandon’s Birthday Break, 30th Bday Ed., finale

There are a lot of things I love about traveling. One of my favorite things is the food, something that was readily apparent from the number of food centric activities that we enjoyed during a single day in Seattle. I love trying new foods, exploring the culinary culture that is unique to a place. For Brandon’s 30th birthday trip, this meant eating some form of seafood pretty much every day. I was totally okay with that. This trip we ate at a mix of favorite spots and places recommended by others. Not a single meal, not a single bite of a single meal, disappointed. The following are some places you should definitely check out if you find yourself on Bainbridge Island or in Portland.

Harbour Public House was our first true vacation meal. Within walking distance of our VRBO, we had a nice stroll through downtown Winslow and along the water to the pub, which serves what I would best describe as gourmet pub food. Although with dishes like fried calamari and seafood and mussel curry, calling it pub food is a bit of an understatement.

Two thumbs up from the most discriminating seafood eater I have ever met. The beer-battered fresh Pacific cod made for fantastic fish and chips, even by Brandon’s almost impossible standards.

My seafood curry was the perfect mix of sweet and spicy

Mora Iced Creamery is a “can’t miss” stop, even when it’s 40 degrees outside. With flavors ranging from the familiar to the more creative, there is certain to be something for any taste. And if you just can’t make up your mind, sample to your heart’s content until you find that perfect flavor, or combination of flavors. Or, hypothetically, if two of you want to order the same flavor, you can keep trying the various options until someone gives in and decides that the other person  can have the chocolate peanut butter. Because you can’t order the same thing. Obviously.

It is hard to feel like you’ve “lost” when the consolation prize is more Mora’s ice cream. And I may have agreed to share a few bites of the chocolate peanut butter.

J’aime Les Crepes is a small creperie that was recommended by a friend. With options from sweet to savory, the authentic  French crepes made for a delicious and not-too-heavy breakfast. The thin, subtly sweet crepe was the perfect counterpart for veggies, cheese, and a hint of pesto sauce.

Manor House is the on site restaurant at the Inn at Pleasant Beach. It was the ideal spot for Brandon’s birthday dinner and probably the biggest splurge of the trip. The setting was intimate and romantic, just where I wanted to be on a cool, rainy night.

After perusing the menu, we started with cocktails and the out of this world manila clams. Despite the fact that we were in a super fancy restaurant, I was sorely tempted to lick the bowl clean.

We each went with the 3-course Chef’s Tasting Menu with wine pairings. The tasting menu had multiple options for each course, so we had a selection of dishes to share. Although really I think I could have eaten more of the clams and been perfectly content.

Calamari sauteed in a white wine and tomato sauce
Truffled mushroom flatbread
Linguine with prawn scampi
Cassoulet with a white bean ragout
And for dessert we shared the vanilla ice cream with berries and a dulce de leche bread pudding. Or at least, we tried. Honestly, we were so full and satisfied by this point that we couldn’t take more than a few bites of each.
Happy birthday, my love

Our last food stop before leaving Bainbridge Island was Doc’s Marina Grill. Because we needed to get one more seafood fix before leaving the island.

Lunch with a view
More manila clams, this time in a garlic and white wine sauce with andouille sausage thrown in for good measure
Clam chowder (are you sensing a theme?)
And a warm, cheesy, Dungeness crab risotto

Back in Portland, we had a second birthday dinner at our favorite, favorite spot, Le Chon. I have written about this restaurant before because it is, after all, our favorite. But I really can’t get enough of this place. And one birthday dinner really isn’t enough.

“Our” table by the fish tank
My usual, the mediterraneo – a twist on a pisco sour
I can’t remember what Brandon ordered, but it came in a super cool mug
Burrata topped with grilled green onion pistou, golden raisins, and marconas served with griddled bread
Grilled steak
Truffle fries, of course. I’m pretty sure we ordered empanadas, as well. But we probably started eating them too quickly to get a picture. You should always order the empanadas.
One of our favorite dishes is the grilled octopus with chorizo and fried potatoes

On the last morning of our trip, we managed to check another spot off my Oregon bucket list while eating delicious donuts at Blue Star. These are considered by many to be the best donuts in Portland. Blue Star utilizes a brioche dough that takes almost 20 hours to make, which is done with only the best ingredients. And then they top the donuts with creative and delicious flavor combinations, like blueberry bourbon basil and orange olive oil. These are donuts gone upscale.

We shared an apple cider fritter and a peanut chocolate covered donut. Both yummy!

And with that, our days of eating dessert for breakfast and clams every other meal were sadly over. At least for this trip! I loved planning Brandon’s 30th Birthday Break. Even more, I loved getting to spend a week celebrating a new decade of his life. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

 

 

Brandon’s Birthday Break, 30th Bday Ed., cont’d

Brandon turned 30 and it was a thing that needed to be celebrated, celebrated with all the fun things and adventures that could possibly fit into a single week. And so I planned and obsessed and refined and expanded. The end result was an incredible week in Washington.

I previously shared the places we stayed, but that was only the beginning, the background against which all the other pieces could fall into place. And oh what pieces they were.

To begin, skydiving.  You may remember that the details of this trip were a complete surprise to Brandon, who discovered what was next as we went along. That was how we found ourselves having this conversation over a lovely breakfast on a rainy Sunday morning in Olympia:

Me: So you’re probably wondering what we are doing in Olympia.

B: Well, yeah. I can’t remember ever mentioning a desire to come to Olympia.

Me: It’s more about the proximity to what we are doing today than actually being in Olympia. You remember that time you said you wanted to go skydiving? (picture a slightly maniacal smile slowly forming on my face)

B: (worried silence)

Me: Yeah, I think it was when we were in Hawaii or something. You said you really wanted to go skydiving. So you’re going skydiving today. I have reservations for you this morning.

B: You keep saying “you’re going skydiving.” Don’t you mean “we’re going skydiving.”

Me: (worried silence)

B: I’m not going to go skydiving by myself! I only want to go if you go with me. If we die, we die together!

Me: Ummm…. I hadn’t really planned on joining you. I mean, the cost is so much more for two people.

After several minutes of somewhat tense negotiation, it was determined that if, in fact, Brandon was going skydiving today, so was I. As we discussed the impending “fun” we would be having, we halfheartedly bemoaned the weather and “worried” that perhaps the rainy day would prevent us from jumping.

As we both kept pretending that we actually really wanted to skydive, we made our way toward Skydive Kapowsin. I think we were both secretly relieved when the worsening weather meant that it was not a good day to jump out of an airplane.

Hiding our relief, we began forming a Plan B. Fortunately, it just happened to be the weekend for Bainbridge Island’s Wine on the Rock. The weekend event is a coordinated effort among the handful of wineries on the island featuring tastings and charcuterie at each stop. We bought our tickets at the first vineyard we visited, Eleven Winery.

After enjoying the wine and live music offered there, we took our souvenir wine glasses and the handy event map and began making our way down the island, stopping at several vineyards and wineries along the way.

Not only were the wine and food fantastic, we got to learn about the unique wine industry and culture of the island, which is shaped by the rainy and cool weather (read: we drank lots of white wine).

Our favorite was a perfectly tart raspberry dessert wine we purchased at Perennial Vintners. In fact, as I type this, we are planning to open it up tonight to serve along side creme brûlée (I am weirdly excited about breaking in the kitchen mini torch) to celebrate Brandon’s hard work refinishing the original hardwood floors in my house. Seems like a worthy event for the wine! We did not quite make it to all the vineyards, one of us had to drive after all, but it was the perfect way to spend our first day of vacation. And I think we both enjoyed it more than we would have enjoyed skydiving.

Good thing Sunday was such a relaxing day. Because the following day was anything but, in the best way possible. Monday was Seattle day. With our VRBO chosen partly for location, we were able to get an early start that day with a brisk walk to the ferry. We spent the day exploring Seattle by foot, as evidenced by the new record I would set for steps according to my FitBit.

We began our day in Pike Place Market, stopping by some of my favorite spots.

Which pretty much means we spent the morning eating food. Lots of food.

After thoroughly enjoying the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of the market, we made our way toward the Pacific Science Center.

Unfortunately we did not have time to see the entire museum, but Brandon was especially interested in the special Sherlock Holmes Exhibit. The exhibit provided a history of the Sherlock Holmes series, including some of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original manuscripts. There was information on the science of crime solving during this point in history and on the fascination with crime present culturally that provided a background for the novels.

The central part of the exhibit was the opportunity to solve your own crime using the tools of the time. Although probably not targeted entirely toward adults, we both had fun following the clues and solving the mystery.

From there, we made our way to Orfeo, the meeting place for our Savor Seattle Gourmet Seattle Tour. This would be my third tour with Savor Seattle and like the previous two, it did not disappoint.

But first, we had to stop for cupcakes. We arrived just a bit early for the tour, so when we asked about somewhere nearby to grab a quick drink, our guide recommend Yellow Leaf Cupcakes. Because if you’re going to drink water, you might as well have a pancakes and bacon cupcake to go with it.

Back at Orfeo, our tour began. The focus of the Gourmet Tour is the food culture of Seattle – the focus on fresh, local, organic, seasonal, and sustainable foods. At each stop of the tour, we got to sample varying ways that Seattle restaurants live out these goals with a selection of small plates and Washington wine pairings. And it was delicious!

Wild Boar Polenta
One of the interesting things about Orfeo, in addition to the food, was the art. All of the art in the restaurant is a derivative of a single painting. For instance, in the picture below, the decor along the wall is enlarged pieces of the painting.

The second stop was a kitchen table at Serious Pie for some of the best pizza in Seattle

Then it was Cutter’s Crab House for crab stuffed prawns

And then La Buona Tavola, aka the truffle store, aka the most delicious place on earth

Then it was on to the Steelhead Diner for to-die-for razor clam chowder

And we still weren’t finished. Our next to last stop was Von’s Gustrobistro, famous for their collection of well over 1,000 spirits and their sourdough based breads and pasta
Here we were treated to an unbelievably delicious salmon sourdough pasta
The final stop of the walking tour was the iconic Fran’s Chocolates where we got to enjoy a variety of chocolate tastings that beautifully rounded out the tour

Following the tour, we were somehow hungry for dinner. We returned to Brandon’s favorite stop from the tour, Von’s, for more of that sourdough pasta. And more drinks. When it’s your birthday trip, you get to do what you want.

We started with sourdough bread with mozzarella
This time, we ordered the pork belly and brussel sprout pasta
The real highlight was the drinks. With fantastic ingredients and unique presentations, the drinks were hard to beat.

For further proof, here is a video, yes a video, of the coolest drink ever: video_31093318625

Our last major stop of the day was the Space Needle. Finally ready for a break from all of the eating, the Seattle icon was the perfect spot to finally put our feet up for a bit. With an unbeatable view of the city, we suddenly became the obnoxious couple kissing at a landmark. I know, I know, but there was Brandon and the romance of the city lights and the relaxed satisfaction of a day spent enjoying delicious food and drinks. I couldn’t not make out with him.

After that, we slowly made our way back to the ferry. We stopped at a bar or brewery here or there as caught our fancy. By the time we made it back to the ferry, it was late and we were exhausted. Which probably explains (some of) the following pictures.

It is hard to beat this view of Seattle at night

It was one of my favorite days ever.

Oh, and my new FitBit record

Tuesday was Brandon’s birthday. We used his birthday as an excuse to be lazy. To relax. To enjoy the hot tub to soothe our aching feet. We checked into the Inn at Pleasant Beach and simply enjoyed the beauty of the day and each other’s company. I know taking a day to relax can seem like a waste while on vacation, but I’ve learned that a day like this makes the rest of the trip so much better. We ended the day with an unparalleled birthday dinner at Manor House (more on that to come).

Wednesday was sadly our last day on Bainbridge Island.

We made the most of our last morning before heading toward Portland. While our time in Washington may have been about new experiences, we used our time in Portland to revisit some of our favorites. Dinner at Le Chon is always a highlight. And one of Brandon’s favorite spots is Ground Kontrol – arcade by day and arcade and bar by night. He usually beats me at everything. Except Tetris, I dominate at Tetris. And a late night in Portland is not quite complete without a stop by Voodoo Donut. Because it was a weeknight, there was hardly a line at all!

And then came Thursday. The last day is always the hardest, especially when the days ends with your love flying away for work. But we made the most of it. After breakfast, we spent a leisurely morning at the Japanese Gardens, lovely despite the ongoing construction.

I love this picture of Brandon

Our last stop of the day and the vacation was McMenamin’s Grand Lodge in Forest Grove. We booked massages for the afternoon at Ruby’s Spa and spent the time before and after in the warm soaking pool. It was the perfect end to a perfect week together.

But I’m not done, yet. I have more to share about food and the places you should definitely eat should you find yourself in Bainbridge or Portland. Because I have not already talked enough about food.

Brandon’s Birthday Break, 30th Birthday Edition

Sometimes I can be a teensy bit of a perfectionist. Like when I’m deciding upon the layout for my master bathroom addition (just ask Brandon) or when I am creating a menu plan for the week. But none of that compares to how obsessive I can become when planning a trip. Recently that was taken to a whole new level. I was not planning just any trip; I was planning Brandon’s 30th birthday. It had to be perfect.

Because if it were perfect he would know just how much I love him. Because I wanted him to begin the next decade of his life knowing that the best is yet to come. Because if I’m going to take an entire week off work it better be awesome.

After considering the countless options of where to go, I eventually settled upon Washington. I know, I know. It’s hardly my usual far flung destination. And it was, after all, Brandon’s 30th birthday. But this ended up being the perfect option for several reasons.

First, there were no airplanes involved. It had not been my year for airplanes. With delays and misplaced luggage and looooong days of rescheduled and redirected flights the norm over the previous months, I did not want to risk the stress of that for this particular trip. That, obviously, meant going somewhere within driving distance.

Second, Seattle is one of my absolute favorite cities and I wanted to share it with one of my absolute favorite people.

Third, Brandon loves the people in his life with a generosity and loyalty I admire daily. Choosing Washington as our destination allowed us to fit in time with friends and family, without which Brandon’s 30th birthday could not have been perfect.

So Washington it was. Specifically Bainbridge Island.

I had found the perfect location to celebrate Brandon’s new decade of life. What next? This really gets at my planning process. Typically, when determining where to go, I either jump on a good travel deal or, if I have somewhere specific in mind, I book airfare first because this is often the most expensive and/or least flexible aspect of the trip. On the one hand, wanting to go everywhere can be challenging because, well, everywhere is a big place. On the other hand, when the right opportunity comes along, it is easy to say yes. All that aside, not having to worry about airfare (thank goodness) on this particular adventure (see above), I was on to my (usual) next step – where to stay.

There are generally two approaches to booking a place or places to stay on a trip – either it is a central part of the vacation experience and thus choosing a beautiful or unique, and often more expensive, property with amenities is a priority or it is simply a home base from which to explore, often meaning that nondescript but affordable lodgings in convenient locations become most important. In short, either the hotel matters or it does not matter. Generally, I lean somewhat toward the former approach, although spending hours of research in order to find the little known budget hotel or rental option in a great location with some character is my idea of a good time. For this particular trip, I wanted everything to be flawless and that included the places we stayed.

I knew I wanted to spend at least one night at the Inn at Pleasant Beach. In fact, this inn is overwhelmingly the reason why I settled upon Bainbridge Island rather than Seattle as our primary destination.

You may recall that I stayed there once before and absolutely fell in love. It is, hands down, one of the loveliest and most comfortable places I have ever stayed. It seemed like the ideal place to stay for Brandon’s actual birthday. But only for one night because the inn is rather expensive and I am not a “real” doctor and don’t make real doctor money! Don’t get me wrong though; staying there is worth every penny. The Inn at Pleasant Beach has everything one could want – a gorgeous location on the water, beautiful and cozy rooms with unbeatable attention to detail, and a friendly staff.

Those chairs are seriously the most comfortable ever. I’m pretty sure I spent the better part of the afternoon in that chair by that fire staring at the view.

No part of me regrets splurging on a night here. And let’s be honest, I say it was for Brandon, but really, it was for me. Although this was his favorite spot, too.

With one night of the trip taken care of, I needed to find another place to stay on Bainbridge Island for a night or two. I wanted somewhere within walking distance of the ferry (so that we could come back from Seattle without worrying too much about how many glasses of wine we enjoyed with dinner), something affordable, and, preferably, somewhere with style. Little Rabbit Studio, which can be booked through VRBO, fit the bill exactly.

An impeccably decorated studio next to the owner’s home, we both loved our stay here. Again, it was all about the details – the bottle of wine and sweet bread left for us to enjoy, the weather forecast written on the chalkboard, the umbrella to borrow, the books and pamphlets of local attractions. It was such an easy place to stay.

The details reflected how much everything else about the studio was carefully curated and on point. We loved the hot tub, the perfectly outfitted small kitchen, and the location.

A small, private courtyard with a hot tub. There was also a fire pit in front of the house.

I would stay here again in a heartbeat.

That was initially the plan – a couple of nights in Little Rabbit Studio and perhaps a couple of nights at the Inn. But of course, plans evolve. Because I love Brandon and wanted his birthday trip to reflect that love. Not at all because I am an obsessive perfectionist who sometimes gets out of control and starts making plans bigger and bigger.

I decided that I wanted to add a night in Portland so that we could eat at our favorite restaurant. Plus, Brandon gets a little stir crazy in the car and this would break up the drive from Seattle to home. In a super complicated decision-making process, I chose the subtly wine-themed Hotel Vintage because I love Kimpton Hotels and we had not stayed there before. Like I said, super complicated.

This was another absolutely perfect stay. From the gorgeous lobby bar to the slightly edgy décor to the birthday gift greeting us in the upgraded room to the complimentary wine hour, we enjoyed every minute of our stay.

The wine hour was great. And we could go upstairs to the game room where there was a pool table and shuffleboard.

Can you tell that I love the details?

And then, there was my last edition to the itinerary. After decided that Brandon really needed to go skydiving for his birthday, I booked a night at the RL Hotel Olympia. This was a night when location and a good price were my priorities, but the recently remodeled hotel was a nice bonus. Despite a late arrival, it was a nice, quick stay that put us in the perfect spot for the plans of the following day.

The lobby was very trendy with a morning coffee bar with complimentary coffee and that also served made to order drinks

I know not everyone sees hotels as a splurge-worthy aspect of a trip. And honestly, if it were between not going somewhere because I could not afford a nice hotel and going somewhere and staying somewhere less than luxurious, the latter option wins every time. Assuming it is clean and safe. Those are my minimum criteria (ask anyone who has ever stayed in a less than clean hotel with me, I don’t do well). But sometimes it is fun to live it up a little and enjoy a fancy hotel, especially to celebrate a special occasion.

With the hotel situation mostly settled, I could move on to the details – what to do and, perhaps my favorite, where to eat. More on that to come.

For those considering a similar trip, our itinerary ended up looking like this:

Day 1: Drive to Portland. Have a birthday party in Portland at Brandon’s mother’s house with friends and family who live in the area. Drive to Olympia, Washington, getting in really late and slightly irritable (just keeping it real).

Day 2: Wake up. Inform Brandon that he is going skydiving. Have Brandon insist that if he is, I am to. Feel secretly relieved when we are unable to skydive because of weather. Drive to Bainbridge Island and move on the Plan B for the day. Check into Little Rabbit Studio.

Day 3: Spend the day exploring Seattle and spend our second night at the studio.

Day 4: Happy Birthday Brandon!! Welcome to the thirties, which has, thus far, been the best decade yet of my life. I can only hope the same for him. Reluctantly check out of our rental and feel quickly consoled after checking into the lovely perfection that is Inn at Pleasant Beach. Spend the afternoon relaxing before a delicious birthday dinner.

Day 5: Drive back to Portland, where we stayed at Hotel Vintage. Have a fun evening in Portland that included dinner at our favorite spot.

Day 6: More Portland fun before I had to drive home and Brandon had to fly out for work.

Day 7: Enter into post-vacation blues.

 

Let’s Go Back to February

So in all of the hubbub about Iceland, which, to be sure, certainly deserves all of the love, I never got a chance to discuss Valentine’s Day and the new progress on my Oregon Bucket List.

Let me start by saying that I’m not necessarily a Valentine’s Day kind of gal. I don’t expect flowers and romance and gifts just because it is a certain day. I do sort of expect those things at other times, but because they come from the heart, not from some sort of weird pressure to win the unspoken competition that occurs on Valentine’s Day to have the “best” boyfriend, husband, partner, etc.

That being said, when your boyfriend has been out of town for three weeks because of work and he just happens to be back the weekend that it just happens to be Valentine’s Day, it is the perfect excuse for a weekend getaway.

In typical Brandon and Cora fashion, the weekend mostly centered around food. Really, really good food.

We kicked off the weekend by trying one of the restaurants on my bucket list: Ned Ludd.

DSC02741

The restaurant managed to exude coziness, quirkiness, and Portland all at the same time.

DSC02743

DSC02746

With a focus on locally sourced ingredients and homestyle craft cooking using the restaurant’s brick wood-fired oven, the experience was overwhelmingly delicious. The menu changes regularly to reflect the season.

Something with gin, honey, and lemon and something with cranberry and some type of liqour? That's all I've got. Sometimes I get too distracted by, you know, actually drinking a delicious cocktail to remember to note what's in it.
Something with gin, honey, and lemon and something with cranberry and some type of liqour? That’s all I’ve got. Sometimes I get too distracted by, you know, actually drinking a delicious cocktail to remember to note what’s in it.
This was the only thing I did not enjoy - the gougeres (you can google it yourself, just like I did subtly under the table in the restaurant) were excellent, but the pink peppercorn cream was just a little too, well, peppery.
This was the only thing I did not enjoy – the gougeres (you can google it yourself, just like I did, with my phone hid subtly under the table) were excellent, but the pink peppercorn cream (in keeping with the red and pink themed Valentine’s menu) was just a little too, well, peppery.
Homemade noodles, sautéed kale and other greens with a poached egg and parmesan. It never tastes this good when I make it at home.
Homemade noodles, sautéed kale and other greens with a poached egg and parmesan. It never tastes this good when I make it at home.
Brandon ordered polenta with roasted brussels sprouts and mushrooms. Maybe my vegetarian diet is rubbing off on him?
Brandon ordered polenta with roasted brussels sprouts and mushrooms.
And no fancy meal is complete without dessert - a warm chocolate cookie with cold milk. The cold milk comes from a specific cow. A specific cow that has a name.
And no fancy meal is complete without dessert – a warm chocolate chocolate chip cookie with cold milk. The cold milk comes from a specific cow. A specific cow that has a name. Did I mention that we were in Portland?

Ned Ludd is not my favorite restaurant in Portland (more on that in a bit), but it was an excellent meal in a restaurant committed to every aspect of the food that they serve.

You can’t spend a weekend in Portland without doing brunch. It’s just what you do in Portland. After deciding we didn’t want to wait for two hours to get a table at Tasty n Alder, we found ourselves at Cheryl’s on 12th, which had a much more reasonable wait.

Not only was there a shorter wait, there were also complimentary beignet like things, warm out of the oven and coated in sugar. I think we made a good choice.
Not only was there a shorter wait, there were also complimentary beignet like things, warm out of the oven and coated in sugar. I think we made a good choice.
I do not apologize for the gratuitous picture of handsome brunch date
I do not apologize for the gratuitous picture of my handsome brunch date
It's not brunch without coffee. And mimosas. And more coffee.
It’s not brunch without coffee. And mimosas. And more coffee.
Eggs Sardou made with creamed spinach and artichokes
Eggs Sardou made with creamed spinach and artichokes

And the delicious food did not stop there. Saturday evening, we ate at our favorite Portland restaurant, where we had first eaten back in October. Lechon is just plain amazing. Serving food inspired by South American cuisine, Lechon simply gets it right.

This is the Mediterraneo - a drink inspired by the classic Peruvian cocktail - the pisco sour
This is the Mediterraneo – a drink similar to the classic Peruvian cocktail, the pisco sour

On this particular evening, we decided to order the special Valentine’s tasting menu. Every single bite was amazing. And by that I mean I want to eat it all again. Right now.

Salad with goat cheese, toasted nuts, cranberries, and a champagne vinaigrette
A salad with creamed goat cheese, toasted pine nuts, cranberries, and a champagne vinaigrette
This is what food should always taste like - burrata on toast with roasted salsa
This is what food should always taste like – burrata on toast with charred salsa
Lobster beignets
Lobster beignets
This truffle risotto was so incredible that my amazing boyfriend has learned to replicate it at home. Because everyone needs truffle risotto in their life on a regular basis.
This truffle risotto was so incredible that my amazing boyfriend has learned to replicate it at home. Because everyone needs truffle risotto in their life on a regular basis.
After all of that, we finally got to the main course - swordfish with chimichurri, crab cakes, and beef stuffed with all kinds of yummy things like olives and peppers
After all of that, we finally got to the main course – swordfish with chimichurri, crab cakes, and beef stuffed with all kinds of yummy things like olives and peppers
And, because we had not eaten enough already, we each got our own (as in no sharing) molten lava cakes for dessert.
And, because we had not eaten enough already, we each got our own (as in no sharing) molten lava cake for dessert.

Okay, so we obviously ate a lot of really good food. But we actually did other stuff, too. A walking tour is the perfect after dinner activity to burn off at least some of the calories consumed. I had taken a tour with Portland Walking Tours a couple years ago and really enjoyed it. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to try one of their other tours. After looking into my options, I settled on the Beyond Bizarre Ghost Tour, which offered a combination of history for me and the potential for scariness for Brandon. With a 10 pm start time, there was plenty of time for a late dinner before meeting for the tour at the former Merchant Hotel, which is rumored to be haunted (said in my most mysterious and scary movie voiceover voice).

DSC02759

DSC02758

Haunted or not, it was creepy. Especially the creepy, creepy basement that was part of the infamous Portland tunnels underneath the city.

IMG_9283

IMG_9284
Our guide was fantastic – funny and informative!

What I like about this type of tour is that you get a side of history that you don’t normally hear. Even if ghosts aren’t your thing (and it’s not really mine), we got to learn about the darker side of Portland history – essentially legalized forced prostitution and the horrors associated with it, a period of time when anyone could be kidnapped and forced to be a sailor, floods and murder and mayhem.

We got to use EMF detectors during the tour. I will say, it was a little unnerving when it lit up. Especially in the creepy, creepy basement.
We got to use EMF detectors during the tour. I will say, it was a little unnerving when it lit up. Especially in the creepy, creepy basement.

IMG_9291

Another gratuitous boyfriend picture. Because that smile.
Another gratuitous boyfriend picture. Because that smile.

Toward the end of the tour, our guide surprised us with a stop by Voodoo Doughnut (also on my bucket list, although I had previously been there).

IMG_9297

IMG_9298

Best of all, we got to surpass the hour-long line.

IMG_9302
So much for burning those calories…

The other fun thing we did was OMSI After Dark. This adults only event is a (usually) once a month event when the museum stays open late. There are themed events, vendors, and exhibits with a different focus each month.

IMG_9362

Appropriately, the theme this night was related to love and relationships. I thought the concept was great – extra museum hours and the opportunity to spend those extra hours perusing exhibits, glass of wine in hand. However, the execution was somewhat lacking. It was just so darn crowded. Every single thing had a line to the point I felt like we spent the whole evening waiting in line. I would have gladly paid more for the tickets (I think they were $20 apiece) if it meant that entry to OMSI After Dark was capped after a certain number of people.

If I had to wait in line, at least I got to do it with this guy.
If I had to wait in line, at least I got to do it with this guy.
Sexy
I think it’s a good look

Valentine’s or not, I would eat delicious food and explore scary places (like creepy, creepy basements and crowded museums) with Brandon anytime.