<< markandrupa

Portland, Oregon

march 2010

Earlier this year I committed to running my first half-marathon, and in way of preparation I wanted to run a shorter "warm-up" race. Our friend, Eric, had previously introduced us to the impressive work being done by the Cheetah Conservation Fund, which happened to be sponsoring a five-mile charity race ("Run for the Cheetah") in Portland just five weeks ahead of my big race - almost perfect timing. I even managed to collect over $900 in pledges for CCF - many thanks to my family and friends for their support. Rupa and I took advantage of the race and spent the weekend in Portland, where we hung out with friends, toured the beautiful Chinese Garden, browsed the Saturday arts and crafts market and enjoyed a bit of tax-free shopping.


Watch a short slideshow of our trip (27 pics).


  1. Seattle to Portland - march 26

    We got a late start on our drive south and ended up stuck in Friday afternoon rush hour traffic all the way from Renton to Olympia, expanding a 2.5hr drive into 4.5hr. We arrived in Portland and easily found our downtown hotel. The room was a bargain - $129/nt for an enormous suite - but the overnight parking was killer at $33/nt. We loved the location, right in the heart of downtown Portland, and wouldn't hesitate booking it again. We arrived late, though, and had to hurry out to dinner a mile away.

    We walked across the Burnside Bridge and out to a small, local restuant named Le Pigeon. It was an adorable little place, with a completely open kitchen and family-style tables. We quickly found our friends, Ray and Abe, as well as Abe's fiancé Michelle. We'd met Ray and Abe at a restaurant in Orvieto, Italy a year ago. We spent two evenings hanging out in the small town before going our separate ways, promising to meet up back in the Pacific Northwest. A year later we were finally making good on the promise, and it was great to spend an evening catching up. The food was wonderful too - I had the duck, which was cooked to perfection, and Rupa went with the beef cheek bourguignon, which was equally delicious. On top of that, the desert menu was far too tempting to pass up, and we ended up enjoying the chocolate-donut bread pudding, the bacon-honey-apricot cornbread with maple ice cream, and a single foie gras profiterole with caramel and sea salt. Wow! All three were amazing, but the foie gras ice cream was a revelation.

    Hotel Monaco, Portland

  2. Portland - march 27

    Today would be our first time out exploring downtown Portland. We planned to walk everywhere, so we started off with a hearty breakfast at Mother's Bistro. Weekend brunch seems to be a popular activity in Portland, with a variety of highly regarded establishments to choose from, but Mother's was close to our hotel and it didn't disappoint. The vibe was hip and casual, and the extensive menu offered a few surprises. Rupa loved her smoked salmon scrambled eggs while I devoured their justifiably-famous crunchy french toast (dipped in corn flakes before cooking). Equally impressive were the tender pork apple sausages that put all other breakfast sausages to shame. It was a perfect, nourishing start to a long day.

    Down the street from Mother's I checked in for Sunday's race and picked up my timing chip, bib and free t-shirt. We dropped them off at the hotel and enjoyed a brief 30-minute food coma nap before venturing out again. Our first stop was the weekly Portland Saturday Market, an arts and crafts market located under the Burnside Bridge and adjacent to the waterfront park. Dozens of local artists had set up shop under tented booths, many of them featuring handmade jewelry, silk-screened t-shirts or Oregon photography. We didn't make any purchases, but it was fun just to browse and see how creative some people can be.

    We couldn't have asked for better weather today - it was warm and sunny - and we decided to take advantage of it by touring the Lan Su Chinese Garden just a few blocks north of the market. The garden is only ten years old but feels almost ancient, thanks to the skillful work of the artisans and gardeners tasked with building the garden in place of a small (less than one acre) downtown parking lot. The garden was modeled after a typical Ming Dynasty garden from the city of Suzhou, Portland's Chinese sister city. Most of the material was imported from China, and 65 workmen from Suzhou were brought in to complete the structures using ancient techinques. The result is a masterful garden that feels much larger than its meager dimensions, and once inside we lost sight of the fact that we were still in downtown Portland.

    Arriving at the garden we were surprised to learn that we were eligible for free entry this week, since 2010 is the year of the tiger and we were both born in the year of tiger, 36 years ago. It's very likely the only time in our lives when we'll have been able to claim such a benefit. We wandered the garden on our own for a bit before joining a small, informative tour. The tour certainly wasn't necessary to enjoy the garden, but our guide was able to provide detail on the various architectural elements, patterns and themes of the pavilions and patios. My favorite was the the boat-shaped pavilion, which was designed to mimic the look of a traditional Chinese garden barge. Before leaving we stopped in for tea at the teahouse. The selection of teas was comprehensive, and the tea we chose was enjoyable, but service was exceedingly slow and inattentive.

    We spent the balance of the afternoon shopping, stopping in at Sur La Table, lululemon and the Ice Breaker flagship store, among others. As big a fan as I am of the Ice Breaker brand of wool clothing, their American flagship store was a real disappointment, with only a meager sampling of their collection. We also spent some time wandering about in search of Sahagun Chocolates, but I had the wrong address in my head and we never did find it (I was really looking forward to trying their Luscious Caramel chocolate bite). We finished our shopping tour at Powell's City of Books, the largest new and used bookstore in the world with more than a million books on hand. We'd barely scratched the surface of the cooking section when we realized it was time to head back to the hotel and change for dinner.

    For dinner we met up with our friends Eric and Luann, their son Parker, and two of their friends, Alex and Kat. We were all down from Seattle for the "Run for the Cheetah" tomorrow morning. Clyde Common was a gastro-pub style restaurant with an interesting menu. We started off with a white bean puree dip and some popcorn spiced with Spanish paprika (couldn't get enough of that), while our mains included a wonderful crispy pork shank and an equally delicious braised lamb. Eric and Alex brought some tasty wines, and we finished off with the cheese board and some pineapple upside-down cake. It was an easy, relaxing dinner and a wonderful way to end our day.

    Hotel Monaco, Portland

  3. Run for the Cheetah - march 28

    As luck would have it, race day weather was anything but pleasant, with heavily overcast skies spraying a cold rain. Alex and Kat were waiting in the hotel lobby, and we car-pooled over to the Portland International Raceway. We huddled in the car until just before the 8am start, affording us only enough time to hit the Port-O-Lets and stretch our legs. The rain relented mere moments before the air-horn signaled the start, and it stayed away for the duration of the race.

    I ran the race with Eric, keeping us just off an eight-minute-per-mile pace throughout. It was a comfortable pace for me, given that I was already in the seventh week of my half-marathon training schedule. For Eric, who wasn't training for a longer race, the pace was more difficult, but he kept up. We looped twice around flat race-way, and other than a small headwind at the finish the run was uneventful. We finished the five miles in 40:35 (an 8:10 pace), which placed us 32nd out of 105 racers. The insanely fast winner finished 14 minutes ahead of us - Eric and I had just finished our third mile as he crossed the finish line! We cooled down pretty quickly after the race, but we stuck around long enough to grab freebies from the sponsorship tents and watch some kiddies dress up in cheetah costumes for the half-mile kids dash. It was all great fun, and I hope to run again next year.

    Everybody loves doughnuts (). Especially Portland's Voodoo Doughnuts, an eclectic hole-in-the-wall storefront that consistently ranks as one of America's top doughnut shops. We'd walked past the 24hr shop on the way back from dinner Friday night, but we were too full then to partake. Instead, after checking out of our hotel this morning, we walked back for a taste, only to find a long 70-person line wrapped around the corner. We figured the line would move quickly, because really, how long does it take to order doughnuts? But it was 45-minutes before we finally made it to the counter. The selection was vast (over 50 choices) and the colorful names not always decipherable, which made it difficult to choose. Though we had planned to eat just one or two, a tempting display case conviced us to order a few extras. We ended up with a pair of their iconic maple-bacon bars (we were fortunate to nab the last two of the morning), a Triple Chocolate Penetration (chocolate doughnut, with chocolate glaze and topped with Cocoa Puffs), The Loop (vanilla glazed and topped with Froot Loops), and a couple of the more common varieties. The small shop offered no seating, so we hustled the pink box back to our hotel and split a maple-bacon bar in the lounge. The smokey treat lived up to its billing and left us wishing we'd been able to order more. We brought the rest of the doughnuts back to Seattle with us and shared the calories with our friends Jean and Malinda as an after-dinner treat.

    We spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon on a tax-free shopping spree, though our only scores came from Banana Republic and the Columbia Sportswear flagship store (with its comprehensive selection). We finished up our weekend in the Cacao chocolate bar at the Heathman Hotel. The small shop offered a large variety of quality chocolate bars, truffles and treats for sale, though the real draw was their thick and rich drinking chocolates, which were essentially warm melted chocolate in a cup. Rupa ordered a trio of shots: the Pure Dark (my favorite), the Spicy Dark (her favorite, with cayenne pepper) and the Cinnamon (a bit too sweet for our liking). I opted for a cup of the dark hot choocolate, which was more traditional in style but still intense enough to wow me. I paired it with a luxurious MarieBelle chocolate bar (a high-end Nestlé Crunch). Needless to say, we departed Cacao, and shortly thereafter, Portland, with warm and satiated bellies.

    The drive home proved more timely than the drive down, and we arrived back in Seattle a mere 2.5 hours after hitting the road (including a McDonalds pit-stop).

    At home in Seattle