Monday, November 16, 2009

On the road again: Portland, day 1

I hate getting up early, but that's what I have to do on these travel days. It's eight in the morning, a time when I should have a pillow pulled over my head and be snuggled into my bed, and instead I'm checking email and beginning this entry in the Admirals Club. Today is a classic modern travel day: no chance of upgrade, no way to sit next to my travel companion, a window seat (which I dislike; I vastly prefer the aisle) on one leg, and so on. Still, I have no room to complain, because I'll be in exit rows on both legs--a perk of Platinum status is that you can see the exit-row seats when you book--and so will be able to work.

Work proved to be easy, thanks to the ability to buy bandwidth on the flight. I love being unconnected periodically, but when it's a work trip, being able to land and be caught up on email is a very nice thing indeed.

When I reached the hotel and had settled in, I learned of a very sad development: Sel Gris, a restaurant I adore and where we had planned to eat tomorrow night, was ravaged by a fire that swept through its building and so will not be open for some time. (Its Web site says it will reopen sometime in 2010; a voicemail message said Thanksgiving.) My thoughts and condolences and best wishes go to Chef Monduk and the staff there. If you live in Portland, please patronize this place heavily when it reopens; the culinary scene would be a poorer place without Sel Gris.

Dinner tonight was at Le Pigeon, one of my favorite restaurants in all the world. It's not that the food is the best I've ever tasted, though the meals Chef Gabriel Rucker and his team create are amazingly good and definitely top-drawer, nor that it's the prettiest or fanciest place ever; it's not. It's a funky, small place, and I simply love it. Walking in the door and, if I'm lucky as I was tonight, sitting at the bar where I can chat with the chefs just makes me happy. Rucker was not in the house tonight, but the three guys who were cooking were on the top of their game. I left fatter but happy.

My starter, a Chanterelle soup with foie gras and candy cap sandwich, was the stand-out among multiple excellent dishes. Imagine being a kid and having your mom serve you a grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of mushroom soup. Now, make the grilled cheese sandwich contain foie gras between two centers of white bread so beautifully painted with butter and cooked on a pan and salted perfectly that you'd love to eat them alone, and then seal them around foie gras right on the edge of liquefying. Add chanterelle mushroom soup that was so perfect you realized you were finally for the first time learning what mushroom soup could be, and you have this dish. Wow.

I'm exhausted and have been up almost 21 hours, so I'm going to finish my writing and crash. More tomorrow from your roving correspondent.

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