Friday, December 31, 2010

What Do You Do?

Inevitably, whenever you meet someone you're bound to ask, "What do you do?" In New York, this is an integral part of a conversation when you first meet someone. New York is a town that's focused on networking and many who live there are career driven. So, when you ask someone what they do the subtext is usually can we do business together in the future.

In Portland, people really aren't driven by their occupation. Here people work to live not live to work. Rightfully so since most people leave work at around 5pm and most restaurants close about 10pm. In New York people usually don't get out of work until at least 7pm and typically don't head to dinner before 9pm. So yeah, I would say that's a bit of a lifestyle difference.

When I would first meet people here I really didn't ask them what they did because people were never really talking about their jobs. As I had noticed in my early days, Portland was the kind of place that needed an ambition bomb dropped on it. Unless, of course, your ambition is to cover your body in tattoos, then my friends, you have come to the right spot. That's an achievable ambition.

People in Portland tend to talk about their "art." There are constantly art shows going on and the ability to exhibit a piece of art in one of those shows isn't hard. You just have to know someone who is putting a show on. After I realized that I started asking people, "What do you do?" To my surprise this was a welcome question and the answers I got were all about art. All kinds of art: knitting, quilting, photography, woodwork, stencils. You name it someone works in that medium.

That got me thinking: "Well, what is it I do?" I write. Never really comfortable with the term writer I always shied away from mentioning it and ultimately shied away from practicing. Now that I find myself saying it more, I actually do it more. I even managed to find a writing group, something I sorely missed when I left New York.

The moral of the story here is that both New York and Portland are a place where ambitious people congregate, the difference is the focus of the ambition. I, for one, am happy to be nourishing my creative side again and look forward to doing it more in the new year.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Great Ping, Pok Pok, Whiskey Soda Lounge Debate

I've had a lot of great meals in New York, but the one thing I was certain about when moving to Portland is that great meals weren't about to stop for me. They were actually going to be more affordable and thankfully, there would be more of them. Case in point is the subject at hand: Ping, Pok Pok, and Whiskey Soda Lounge. These are all restaurants in Portland owned by chef Andy Ricker. Let me tell you, they are all quite good. The food is inspired by Southeast Asia and it's unlike food you'd probably find in other Asian inspired restaurants. 

The first restaurant opened was Pok Pok and it's good. One of the favorites people order is the chicken wings. How good are they? So good that Food and Wine even offers up the recipe for Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings. If you can cook, you should try to make them. There's always a long line for Pok Pok - the place isn't that big (it's actually located in an old house - believe me, this is not odd for Portland), but it has its charms. When there's warmer weather you might even be tempted to eat out front, which offers some good people watching. When I went there, I had a great experience and part of that had to do with the waiter. He steered us in the right direction and we left wanting more.

Then Ping opened. Matt called one day and said Ping was having a soft launch and that we should try it. We did, and again, the experience was great. It was a different kind of cuisine - more street-style food. The idea is to share. Yes, the food was amazing, but we had a waitress who steered us in the right direction making the experience that much more enjoyable. She even introduced us to my new favorite dessert: a rice and ice cream concoction. When I heard about it, I said "That does not sound yummy." But she hadn't steered us wrong, so I gave it a try and let me tell you who knew rice would be sooooo good for dessert.

Next, Ricker opens another place across the street and down a block from Pok Pok called Whiskey Soda Lounge. To be fair, Whiskey Soda Lounge is more of a bar that serves interesting apps. The idea is that you can chill out there while you wait for your name to be called at Pok Pok. Not a bad idea, considering many people would go to the bar across the street while they waited to be seated. (This is not unusual in Portland and if anything it should tell you how good the food is at some of these restaurants.) The menu is more adventurous, so if you have a lot of stuff you don't eat this is not a good fit for you. It also has some menu items that were at Pok Pok or Ping.

Thus, the question comes up among friends, which of the three spots are your favorite. For me, its hands down Ping. The menu is interesting, the drinks are delicious, the service is great, and it's low key. They also have a must-have item that I actually start thinking about whenever I drive anywhere in the vicinity of Ping even if I'm not going there. It's ju pa bao: a grilled pork chop on the bone in a bun (See Kaliel's picture above). It melts in my mouth. It's simultaneously sweet and salty. Everyone I take there I make them try it and they often say "That was the surprise. You just don't expect something that simple to be that good." If that's not enough of a recommendation, at our last visit, the waiter told us that men dressed in suits stop in on their way out to dinner with wives or friends to pick one up to help tide them over to dinner.

There you have it, three great Asian-inspired food spots, but which is your favorite? If you're coming to town and could only visit one of those places, well you'd know which I'd pick.

Side Note: I should also mention Andy Ricker has another restaurant Foster Burger. I have yet to eat there, but I hear good things and that of course, its quiet opening was packed and filled with hipsters. How does he do it? I, for one, am just glad he does.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

You Don't Have to be in 8th Grade to be in a Spelling Bee

There aren't many places like New York where you can just step outside your building door and find a hundred things to do at a moment's notice. Portland is no exception. It's one of those places, like many others across the United States, where there just isn't a ton to do after the sun goes down. Instead, in Portland restaurants close between 9pm and 10pm and there aren't a lot of cultural events that run late into the night. This was a bit of culture shock for me. Then I realized that people get off work at 5 and it's not uncommon to be in for the evening at around 10pm. Yes, it's not the same as people getting off work at 7pm and starting to think about dinner at 9pm. Here people make their own fun and I experienced one of those evenings recently.

We had a Spelling Bee at a local bar. We got the back room, gathered a group of friends, and had a Spelling Bee master who had a list of approved 8th grade Spelling Bee words. Oh, and he threw in a few racy words just for fun. The crowd was a fun group and many folks signed up to participate in the Spelling Bee. One person even came wearing a "Mispelling" sash. Classic. The Spelling Bee began simply enough with each contestant spelling a word. We had three rounds of spelling to decide the finalists for the next round. I'm happy to say I made it through that round without a misspelled word. The next round, the words got a bit harder and I was quickly taken out on "cumulative." Apparently, it's not spelled with two m's.

As the night went on, the contestants were narrowed down to just three and I might add that they were all women. In this group, men were not destined to be Spelling Bee champs and that's ok. Once we got narrowed down to the last three contestants the words did get harder and then the rules changed. See, people in Portland like to mix it up. In this final round a word would be selected and it was up to the crowd to choose who should spell it. Things got interesting and we were all impressed with how well the contestants could spell. In the end, the winner of the Spelling Bee was someone who had won a Spelling Bee as a child. I guess some skills stay with you.

The moral of the story: "You don't have to be in 8th Grade to be in a Spelling Bee, but you should be able to spell like one."

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Beautiful Days

There's something to be said for the dreary weather that Portland is known for and that is it makes the gorgeous days that more enjoyable. Though, I have to say it's not nearly as bad as people have warned me or maybe I'm just immune to it. Either way, I hope the previous statement doesn't bring an onslaught of miserable gray drizzle-filled days. Back to my point, today the sun is out, the weather is on the warm side, and the flowers are blooming. It's truly beautiful and reminds me why the Northwest really does have a lot to offer.

If I was in Manhattan on such a beautiful day I would be heading outdoors and take in the rays. Probably grabbing a book, taking the Zsash and heading over to the river or Central Park. It would be glorious. On my way home, I'd probably stop at some shops along the way to pick up some food to make for dinner. Here it's actually not so different. Portland is all about the parks. When I say all about, I mean "all about" - every neighborhood has its own park. I'm not talking about smallish parks that litter New York City like Madison Square Park (Shake Shack does add to its appeal), but I'm talking about large sprawling parks complete with luscious green lawns, huge trees, tennis courts and walking trails. The one near me actually has three reservoirs and plenty of trails that lead up into a mountain through massive trees. You don't even know you're in a city anymore and it's just a 10 minute walk away. It's nice.

While I can walk there just fine - it's about a mile away. I know because my pedometer tells me so. Don't laugh. I got the pedometer so I would get walking again. Portland can be a walking city, but it's not immediately obvious. Probably because everyone prefers to bike here. Anyway, back to the park. I can walk there, but Zsash can't really walk there and then enjoy all the trails. Today, I drove Zsash over and we walked on some of the trails and she sniffed more trees than I care to count. In short, it was great for her. For me, I got to soak up the sun, get some exercise, and remind myself how much I love nature in a place that's so naturally beautiful.

I do love nature, always have except when I was in New York I tended to appreciate it more and go out of my way to seek it out more simply because it wasn't immediately evident. New York is a landscape of buildings - many are beautiful, but there's something to be said for not having to look down a street of tall buildings just to get a glimpse of some green.

Off to read Vanity Fair on the deck. Northwest it's not so bad.