Friday, October 3, 2008


The 'Behind the Wheel Kitchen' chef and traveler is ready to serve you up a large portion of the PNW on this month’s menu. Are you hungry enough for this three week course meal of scenic landscape, snobbery and shabby eateries, hotel ghost stories, wine till you drop, cougars, eagles and bears, oh my? Most of it did end up on my plate, in a glass, or on me any way you look at it.

Some have asked me what is 'PNW', and I reply the Pacific North West like I know it all (well I had not heard that either until we arrived). Each year for the past eleven years my sweetie and I go on a trip across the country(s), and he adds a day or two along the way. I have the luxury of going and coming when I feel like it owning my own company, and he gets three weeks a year. I know, I know, I realize most of you only get a week or two, but I did not say I liked being away that long. Three weeks in a car, hotel, and 24/7 with someone you live with? I might make the poor guy walk the plank, and in this case they would have been pretty cold waters...shiver me timbers!

The last three or four years the trips have gotten longer, yes, but this time I must say...I did not want to come home! I wanted to hibernate with the bears, pick blackberries, and eat salmon all year long. He had to drag me on the plane kicking and screaming, but I calmed down in the airport lounge. Sorry for sharing. I will get to the meat of the subject now, and end with a list of places to eat, sleep, drink, and play.

We started off in Portland for three days staying in the Avalon Hotel. I love boutique hotels and they usually love me back! Plenty of sight seeing if you rent a car (did that) or take those cute hop on, hop off tour buses. There were so many parts of the city to see I am not sure where to begin. I recommend starting off in the Pearl district where you can shop till you drop, and ate at a South American/Tex-Mex fusion place called Andina. What a very colorful atmosphere and great food this place offers. Many of the shops are one of a kind, and very artsy cool stuff you can ship home. There is an old school house in Portland that has been converted to a hotel, McMenniman's Kennedy School. They have three restaurants with a full bar and serve McMenniman's own micro brew. This was worth the extra calories from the beer but you can walk it off looking around the town. They were our first choice in hotel, but no vacancies, so we asked to see a few rooms, and they were very nice about my southern intrusion.

Where did we find the room for dinner next? I am not sure, but we had reservations at a place called Beast. The chef has been written up many times, and it was worth the money. She choices a six course meal for you (the menu changes according to fresh ingredients) you sit at communal tables and enjoy the weirdness. They offer a wine pairing, or you are welcome to bring your own. Most of the PNW is about local, fresh, and organic ingredients, and we are trying to catch up.

The next few days are a blur because we just drove, walked, drove, walked and slept. McMinnville was our next destination and we stayed at the Hotel Oregon. Some of the rooms come with a shared bath area. OK, this can get weird, but I swear no one was on the floor with us except an old prospector ghost (another story) who tried to get in bed with us the two nights we stayed, but I had the whole bathroom/showers all to myself otherwise, and it’s a cheaper deal. This area is where all the good vino is, like the one we all hear about, Pinot Noir of Oregon. Well it’s pretty true in my eyes, and the scenery is like being in Italy, and all along the way places have ‘tasting’ rooms. We tasted, drove, tasted, drove, he tasted, I drove, and we had our threesome. Beware most vineyards and tasting rooms do charge, but they add the cost to a bottle if you buy a few.

The road is leading us up the pacific coast by way of Washington for a scenic drive We see more beautiful landscape, vineyards, sea otters, a large variety of birds, and then we roll into Astoria. There is plenty of wine tasting, and amateur photography along the way. I will only mention one Tex-Mex place that rocked my lunch palate. Since I forgot to write the name down, just try most any in the area, I am sure now that the PNW rocks in that cuisine department since I had two good hits on my trip so far. The maritime museum in the town is a good choice to visit and very entertaining, as well as sea lion watching off the main pier to the left of the museum. The Columbia River is wondrous and worth exploring in this area.

Our next town was Port Angeles, where you catch the ferry across to Vancouver Island. We stayed in a reasonable B & B, Seven Sea Sons that is just up the street from downtown and the ferry. We meet two couple staying there with us, because one of the women tried to break into our room after a night of wining and dining she could swear my door looked like hers (and they did). The couples were very nice and they were heading in our direction, so we all hung out. I have completely forgotten to mention that along the way you will find great road side markets, as well as the Portland Market on the edge of the university. The produce, flowers, and food to eat are great to fill in when you do not want a whole breakfast or lunch. Beware: one of the couples bought too much and if you are going into Canada they will not let you bring them in. We were eating many apples along with the bottles of wine on the ferry, so they would not go to waste. They will not let you carry over two bottles each of wine either!

All six of us swaggered into our cars, off the ferry we drove, and into beautiful Vancouver Island. Victoria, BC is a great place just for the locals in Oregon and Washington to visit for long weekends. We stayed in my 'dream' boutique hotel, Oswego. I was in a one bedroom, fully stocked kitchen, huge bath perfect dream. We went to a local market off Moss Street and bought the fixin's for a Salmon feast. I pan roasted Chinook salmon and shrimp in a Cilantro Lime Cream sauce (recipe in another blog) with a side salad. We had it with yet another bottle of Pinot Noir!

We took the hop on, hop off bus and toured most of the city the first day. You decide what you really want to see and get off and walk around. We did go visit a new eatery and hip space, Stage Wine Bar. I love to sit at the bar when possible, the bartenders are friendly and very helpful (ours had an Irish accent). They have tapas style eating, with wines by the glass and full bar. The next day I had a mission, going on a bear hunt in the Sooke Mountains and lake area. Next time we will not go when it is getting dark and try driving down those rocky roads in a rented Kia Rhondo to find wild life that might or might not eat us. Scary! …no bears, but we did not really walk to far into the woods; it was too dark, so we hopped back into the car and drove fast back up the winding roads to our hotel.

More beautiful scenic ferry rides came as we traveled over to the Islands of Washington, San Juan and Orcas. The rest of the hotels I will not mention because I realize it really is a personal preference, and none really after Victoria, none will ever compare anyway. Food as well just became a necessity after a week and half of eating so many rich meals, so we ate at local places that offered soup and salad. I always travel with my own bottle of scotch for a night cap, as well as buy snacks along the way in case we do not run across eateries we like. There are plenty of local organic markets like in Orcas that you can grab a cup of hot chocolate and piece of bread for breakfast. I believe in supporting these mom and pop places as often as I can even out of town. We visited the one and only vineyard on San Juan, and it is a lovely place. This was the site of an old school house and church, so very charming. We bought a bottle and gawked at the local pet camel across the street. Plenty of charm these places, oh, and I forgot the small deer that are not afraid to come next to your car as you are fumbling for the camera, they wait, and even smile as they nibble on grass. I found out that there was a local place, Doe Bay Cafe, that hosted an open mic with wine and gourmet pizza for me to share my poetry with other creative artists. The next day we just drove around the island and stumbled upon an oyster and clam farm. I had always wanted to visit one, and it was along the path to Doe Bay off to the right off an inlet. The owners had just gotten home and opened up shop just for us. I got to see the whole process, and we sat down outside and ate a few dozen with what? More wine, yes, we bought plenty along the Oregon Trail, and just happened to have our own corkscrew too.

Well, its time to leave and head over to the mainland via Anacortes and again, another ferry ride. We drove to Seattle and stayed put in the same hotel for a few more days. Once again we toured the city from one end to the other, and I saw a troll under a bridge, stopped at a garage sale and I bought a lovely new scarf, went dancing at a local 'fun' bar, Neighbors, drank more local brew, ate good food, visited Pikes Market, and had the best hot chocolate ever! Seattle’s Best Coffee, a triple trio (chocolate overload) all while people watching. This trip has inspired me to try and get back on my bike and loose some weight! I have to mention that my sweetie is a software engineer and what would the trip to Seattle be if we did not look for Bill Gates house? Well we gawked at his...gate (and he was not walking the dog either).

We topped off our trip at Purple Wine Bar down the steep hill from our hotel on our last night, just more good food and wine once again! After all I am the chef and my sweetie the wine guide on our many travels. Thanks for letting me share what I thought would be a long and over indulgent experience to a place that was absolutely wonderful, and we will be back, PNW. -Chef E