Passport to Pleasure: Massage, Meat, and More in Portland
For a place with many vegetarians, Portland really likes its meat. (Muscle, fat, flesh, organs, and all—to massage and devour in a variety of ways.)
So let’s spend the night together in Portland, where we stamp this week’s Passport to Pleasure—a hedonistic quest for great food and good times.
CHOCOLATE TAKES FLIGHT AT CACAO
Assuming an afternoon arrival in Portland, you may be interested in a pick-me-up, though something short of the full caffeine jolt of coffee. If so, your first stop should be Cacao. There’s a small jewel box store in the Heathman Hotel, but today you’re going to the West End location, which puts you close to both Powell’s bookstore and the Pearl District. Like the Chocolate Box in Seattle, Cacao is an aggregator of quality chocolates from sources local (think Xocolatl de David and Sahagun, which closed its retail store last year) and afar.
And like the Chocolate Box, the one thing they do make on site is drinking chocolate. No need to make a difficult choice, as the two of you can share a flight (as at Kathryn Taylor Chocolates) to experience all the options. You just might find yourself staring at the large map of Paris on the wall and planning a full-fledged chocolate experience there in the future. (Stay tuned for a Parisian Passport to Pleasure in the next few weeks.)
PERUSE THE SHELVES FOR PLEASURE AT POWELL’S
When you’re in Portland, you absolutely have to go to Powell’s City of Books. Here you’ll find 68,000 square feet of shopping pleasure. As Powell’s buys 3,000 used books each day, they have all kinds of titles—new and used, best-sellers and off-beat, current and historical.
Befitting the Passport to Pleasure theme, you’re looking for the sexuality section. Feast your eyes on shelves and shelves of erotica, instruction books, philosophical treatises, and much, much more. Pick up a book about aphrodisiacs, erotic massage, or perhaps even Sex for Dummies for some fun and inspirational reading.
Whatever your area of passion, be it cookbooks or manga or fine arts, you’ll find a section in Powell’s. (There are 122 subject areas in all.) The best part? You don’t finish your shopping today. You can come back tonight or tomorrow. Powell’s opens daily at 9am and closes at 11pm, offering perfect refuge for a rainy day. (And don’t forget that there’s no sales tax in Oregon!)
BULLISH ON TORO BRAVO
By now, you’re ready for your first real meal in Portland, so you’re going to one of the best restaurants in town: Toro Bravo. John Gorham’s restaurant is extremely popular, so if you’d like to avoid the inevitably long lines, arrive early, as Toro Bravo doesn’t take reservations for two. (In fact, you’d need a party of seven or more to secure reserved seats.)
With a long list of intriguing pinchos, tapas, and raciones, the tasting menu is the way to go. For a very reasonable $25 per person, expect about ten dishes, each chosen by the chef. The tasting menu eliminates decision-making and offers the element of surprise. At this level of quality, you can put your trust in the kitchen.
You’ll probably start off, appropriately enough, with a French kiss: a brandy-soaked prune stuffed with foie gras (above, left). Look for other delicious dishes like sherry chicken liver mousse, marinated sheep’s cheese with rose petal harissa and mint, and a fabulous house-cured ham with hand-cut noodles and vegetables (above, right).
LOUNGE ABOUT AT LUCIA
Tripadvisor calls Hotel Lucia one of America’s sexiest hotels.
Which is why you’re staying here.
Hotel Lucia is right in the heart of it all downtown, and an easy, free ride on the MAX Light Rail from (and to) the Amtrak station. That’s convenient.
The front desk staff is hip, friendly, and helpful with advice. The lounge areas are sleek and sexy, with nice touches of art—including photographs from Pulitzer-prize winning photographer David Hume Kennerly. (His photos extend to the corridors and the guest rooms.)
The sexiness continues into the guest rooms, which are contemporary and comfortable. (Bathrooms are painted a passionate red.) And also thoughtful. Earplugs are provided if you need to combat the noise from the street scene. There’s a pillow menu, an iPod docking station, and pet-friendly rooms. Need 24-hour service? No problem, as there’s around-the-clock availability of the business center, fitness center, and room service offering Thai and American cuisine. Oh…and the lights are fully dimmable, to help set the stage for your romantic evening.
If you wake up early and want to take coffee outside of your room, Public Domain is less than two short blocks away. This bright and cheerful shop serves up exceptional coffee.
It’s also your downtown source for some delicious treats from Nuvrei Pastries. Bring some back to your room, or make the walk together and enjoy a seat in the window, taking in the minimalist vibe and enjoying the crowds of coffee-seekers.
WHEN GRISTLE IS GOOD
Today’s a porky, meaty day, so pastries simply won’t suffice for breakfast. You’re off to northeast Portland for good eats at the rustic Grain & Gristle, where you grab stools at the U-shaped bar. There’s a “breakfasty” section of the menu with eggs Benedict, pancakes, and the like, but you’re going right for the “hearty” menu listing.
A burger’s a beautiful thing in the morning, so one of you might consider that, but one of you should try the scrapple with fried eggs and farm greens. Scrapple’s got all the good pig parts caked together, coated with cornmeal batter, and deep-fried until golden brown and crispy. Add a side order of potato terrine, and you’ll have energy to butcher a pig or tend to the fields of farmland. Grain & Gristle is a relatively new restaurant—and off to a great start.
SHE BOP (AND HE BOP AND WE BOP)
Last night you discovered that Powell’s has quite a selection of sex-related books, and now you’ll see that She Bop has all kinds of sex toys to complement the books they sell. This women-owned, female and couples-friendly boutique (in fat-burning, walking distance of Grain & Gristle) is discreet in its outside presence (there’s a small sign), but powerful and pleasure-focused inside.
You’ll find just about anything you’d like to enhance your sex play, from dildos to DVDs, and cock rings to Kegel exercisers. Be sure to consult with the friendly staff on hand to answer any questions.
Time it right, and you can take one of She Bop’s educational classes, such as the Striptease Salon and The Joy of Toys. Be advised that the classes tend to sell out quickly, so check the website or the Facebook page for current listings. (Photos courtesy of She Bop.)
(Note: As you’re now headed from Northeast to Southeast, you can make a stop at Powell’s Books for Home & Garden, which features a large cookbook section, as well as housewares like dishes and cooking utensils.)
LUNCH AT LARDO, WITH A SUGAR CUBE ON THE SIDE
Portland is particularly popular for its food carts, most of which are located at pods scattered throughout the city’s neighborhoods. While the downtown core has some popular offerings (including Nong’s Khao Man Gai, with Nong said to be on the verge of opening a few brick-and-mortar locations), for lunch you’re headed to the Good Food Here pod on Belmont Avenue.
Your first stop is Lardo, a little place putting out big-flavored dishes. Check the board for the full menu and any daily specials, but if you can find them, you’ve got to try the pork meatball banh mi and the porchetta sandwiches. The banh mi is full of porky goodness, with the pickled vegetables and Sriracha aioli helping to cut the fat. A little. Meanwhile, the porchetta is simply superb, with the caper aioli and gremolata amping up the flavor.
These sandwiches are filling, yet there’s always room for dessert, so walk to the next cart over: The Sugar Cube. Here, Kristin Jensen serves up sweet treats. You can continue the lunch theme and order a sandwich of the ice cream variety. Perhaps a finer choice, though, is panna cotta. At Sugar Cube, this dessert reaches its pinnacle in smoothness and flavor. Choose from luscious lemon or the day’s special, which might be toasted coconut topped with salted caramel. You might also try one of the drinking vinegars for a refreshing and healthy chaser to the lunch.
A MID-AFTERNOON MASSAGE AT DRAGONTREE
How fast do you digest your food? Hopefully you’re quick, as you’re now headed to Dragontree Holistic Day Spa, where you’ll enjoy a couples massage together in one of the treatment rooms. Your practitioners will consult with you about any issues and needs, and then you’ll lie side-by-side on tables and enjoy your relaxing treatment.
Afterward, you’ll rest a bit before being escorted to the Sangha Room where you’ll relish in the comfort of side-by-side foot baths. Call this the land of milk and honey, especially if one of you selects the warm milk foot bath (“hailed as the essence of motherly love, sweet whole milk and rich emollient buttermilk feed the feet and soften the skin”) and the other chooses the honey bath (“for a rejuvenating, soothing, anti-inflammatory, nutritious, antiseptic treat for the feet”).
Note that this is a communal room, but if you’re looking for a lower-cost experience, you can have a wide variety of experience here, including foot therapies, hand treatments, scalp massages, and combination packages. There’s something relaxing about seeing others at peace with the process, enjoying their indulgences, and you’ll feel the same way sharing this experience with your partner.
STRETCH YOUR STAY (AND YOUR STOMACH): LE PIGEON
If you can make it a late day or perhaps add another overnight (and if Lucia’s not available, sister restaurant Hotel deLuxe is a fine choice), make Lardo the foreplay for a full-on dinner feast at Le Pigeon.
With cooks wearing funneled goose t-shirts that read “In Foie Gras We Trust,” expect a meat-filled meal. Like Toro Bravo, Le Pigeon is an extremely popular restaurant, with the best seats—the ones at the counter—held open for walk-in customers. The counter gives you front row seats to a food porn production. If this doesn’t get you excited, nothing will.
As at Toro Bravo, consider going tasting menu (here more than $25; ask ahead to avoid surprises) to get a wide range of dishes—or choose what you like and share with your partner for a similar experience.
If you like foie gras, you can get the lobe here as an appetizer (pictured, left, on toasted brioche with artichoke dip and gremolata)—and note that Le Pigeon is famous for its foie gras profiteroles to end the meal. In between, you might see goat, lamb, beef cheeks, etc. Yes, this is a meat-lover’s paradise. Even the burger looks spectacular, and that counter seat gives you a perfect chance to see its miraculous construction.
Your meal is likely to have eye-opening surprises, like the namesake pigeon crudo. Chef Gabriel Rucker was just named the 2011 James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year, and after a meal at Le Pigeon, you’ll see why.