It was an early morning rise on leaving Seattle; back down to the wharf at dawn to park our rental onboard the Bainbridge Island-bound ferry. A heavy blanket of fog covered Pugent Sound like thick icing on a cake, and continued to do so until we hit Route 3 north of Poulsbo.
Time for another little road trip.
The first day was mainly spent on Highway 101, traversing the northern boundary of Olympic National Park and occasionally taking little detours into the park to fill our lungs with that crisp mountain air. Crystal clear creeks and rivers, ferns, temperate rainforest and towering moss-covered trees abound in this impeccably-stunning part of the north west.
By the time midday came along we were in the vicinity of Forks, a small town positioned between the mountains and the Pacific, and also the key setting for the Twilight saga. Not that I’m a fan as I haven’t even seen one of the episodes.
Lunch was at one of a few eateries that dot the main drag; a roadside diner called Forks Coffee Shop. Those with a penchant for taxidermy would be chuffed to see antlers and deer busts as part of the retro decor. And I don’t mean retro in a contrived kind of way. Something tells me things haven’t changes here for a few decades.
When stepping into a place like this, one can’t set the bar too high. There’s an old dude sitting alone at a table down the corridor near the toilets, a pair of locals sipping on mugs of drip coffee and a young family with noisy kids taking up one of the booths. I think the salad bar had seen better days.
Ordering the Reuben (8.95) was a given, and tossing up between a side of tots, fries, salad or cup of daily soup ended up being the former. I haven’t eaten tater tots for years so I relished every crunchy little one of them. The sandwich was actually pretty good, as well.
The other half and diners don’t really gel so he went for the standard choice. A ham dip (9.95). Nothing outstanding, nothing underwhelming. Ham in a roll with au jus to dip it in, and a huge quantity of fries.
One thing we’d noticed in a couple of the towns we passed through since leaving Seattle was the drive-through coffee shop. A genius concept. No tables or chairs; just a small shack with a sliding window where you place your order and await your cup of caffeine.
Forks happened to have two of them – A Shot in the Dark at one end of town and Mocha Motion at the other. A very chirpy coffee-maker took my order and just a couple of minutes later I had myself an espresso to go. And a good one at that.
To the west of Forks is the tiny village of La Push, a small community straddling the mouth of the Quileute River. The village is within the Quileute Indian Reservation and the handful of businesses that can be found there are owned by the local tribe.
And then there’s the scenery. Massive tree trunks litter the beach – as they do along much of this part of the coast – with rocky islands jutting out of the water just offshore. Sea mist clutched the coastline and added a gloominess to the rugged landscape as seals swam about in the icy water.
Our first night was spent at Kalaloch Lodge, an oceanside retreat that takes its name from what the Quinault Indians called this stretch of coastline. “Good place to land”. Good for us, as well, because there aren’t a great deal of options in this part of the northwest woods. Unless you’re camping, of course.
A few options are available at Kalaloch, no matter what the budget. There’s a camp site, rooms in the Seacrest House, free-standing cabins on the bluff or the main lodge, where we stayed. We were lucky enough to nab one of the spacious rooms that overlook Kalaloch Creek and the ocean – a little dated, nothing fancy.
The isolation of the lodge is what probably appeals to most people. That also means the eating options are limited, so dinner at the lodges Creekside Restaurant it was. The food is hearty and honest with a menu that takes inspiration from the Pacific Northwest location. And it’s the first menu I’ve seen that displays the calorie count next to the item description. Are we in southern California?
I adored the cardamom crusted sea scallops (13.95 / 190 calories), despite the fact there wasn’t a skerrick of cardamom in there. Three plump scallops on a simple salad of leaves, orange segments and delicious crispy shallots.
The bird was the definite hero in the hazelnut roasted chicken (23.95 / 640 calories), served over some steamed/boiled slices of zucchini, Washington apples and watery sage jus. Thanks to the dreamy shrimp sauce, I thoroughly enjoyed the herb-crusted baked Pacific cod (21.95 / 620 calories), propped up against a brown rice pilaf and zucchini.
The rules are broken when it comes to dessert time. No calorie indicators, you see, so you’re in dangerous guessing territory. Thankfully my food consumption isn’t bound by numbers. Lavender brûlée sounded good, as did the berry crisp (both 6.95); and you’ve got to love that aerated cream on the brûlée.
Prior to hitting the highway the following morning, it was breakfast downstairs in the restaurant again. Another gloomy start on the northwest coast. Two enormous buckwheat pancakes (6.95) kicked off the days eating for the better half; ever-so fluffy, topped with walnuts and some maple syrup to sweeten things up a tad.
I swooned over eggs Benedict. (14.95) Not just any ordinary Benedict as this one was topped with dungeness crab. And I was willing to ignore the hollandaise that had split and was rather runny.
With the Olympic National Park well and truly behind us, it was a morning of cruising down the 101 through fog, forest and pockets of farmland. The first city we got to was Hoquiam; a bit of a loggers town that provided us with our first coffee of the day thanks to the pink and yellow dwelling I spotted as I drove us down Lincoln Street. Another chirpy coffee-maker and a banging double espresso to keep me wired until our lunch stop. You’ve gotta love the name – Go Dog Go.
Continuing down the 101 brings you to the huge inlet for the Columbia River – the 6 1/2 kilometre Astoria-Megler Bridge – and a border crossing into the state of Oregon. I have an odd fascination with bridges when I’m abroad so excuse the multiple shots of this gorgeous cantilevered structure.
Our time in Astoria spanned a couple of hours; time to sit down, relax and enjoy a lunch at the Bridgewater Bistro. And you can’t gripe the location, either, especially on a glorious day like the one we had. The bistro resides in what used to be the construction and maintenance warehouse for the Union Fish Co-op Cannery at the end of the wharf – now the Cannery Pier Hotel.
Ideally I would have preferred to eat here at dinner as the menu seems more interesting and seafood-heavy. The lunch menu is mainly a celebration of salads, sandwiches and burgers; the typical American staples we’d grown a little tired of.
The better half went for the lunch combo (10.5) – Half a Spitfire sandwich (turkey, bacon, cheese, jalapeño aïoli, avo) with roasted red pepper soup. It was clam & mussel chowder (5.5) for me with the wild Alaskan cod & chips (15.5). A decent chowder with hints of basil and curry, and a very light couple of fish fillets coated in corn and rice flour before being fried. Nothing like the New England stuff, but quite good none the less.
Not that we even needed it, but dessert made it to the lunch spread. Warm chocolate “bete noir” (4.5) drizzled with orange-cardamom sauce and a caramel apple-toffee bread pudding (4.5). Sustenance for more driving ahead.
We contemplated the coffee drive-thru in the carpark but the Three Cups Coffee House across the road took the pick. This friendly little cafe-roaster sits in the shadow of the bridge and is a perfect place to kick back on the lounge with a cup of coffee and a well-thumbed book. A bunch of baked goodies and sandwiches are there to fill the stomach, but for us, a couple of super macchiati to keep us well-dosed for the rest of the day.
Had we driven from Seattle to Portland without stopping to explore or overnight at Kalaloch Lodge, it would have taken us just over nine hours to arrive. Kind of pointless to drive straight through when there’s so much to see between both cities; plus we weren’t in any kind of rush. And to be honest, I could have easily wafted about the Olympic National Park area for days.
The small city of Portland has a lot of appeal. A vibrant downtown, loads of parks and greenery and a broad scope of dining and drinking venues. Once putting the car into parking and dropping our bags at the Hotel Vintage, we wandered around the waterfront and the Old Town; somehow coming across Voodoo Doughnut.
I’d read and heard many things about this iconic doughnut shop; it’s queues, its quirky creations and people saying a visit to Portland wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Voodoo. Barely a handful of people milled about its colourful interior late that afternoon when we walked past. I could only guess we arrived at the right time.
The revolving tiers in the glass cabinet draw you like bees to honey; with people pointing and trying to decide which crazy doughnut to buy. I’ve got to be honest, when I feel it’s doughnut time I generally go for the humble variety. Simply tossed in sugar or coated in icing. That’s it. I’m happy.
I’m not entirely sure what possessed me to go for the dirty old bastard, but I did it anyway. I know there was an oily doughnut under there somewhere, but it seems the wares at Voodoo are more about what’s on top. Less-is-more doesn’t make their vernacular.
Chocolate, Oreo’s and peanut butter. My stomach still tenses when I think about it. A serious overkill in the sugar department, a cloying sensation with the two bites I took and in the bin it went, I’m afraid. Yes, I trashed a Voodoo. Much the same as I did with the crack pie in New York. Craziness like this is wasted on me.
The better half went for the much simpler Portland cream – topped with chocolate icing and filled with custard. Once again, nothing special and hardly worth lining up for.
Something needed to be done about the sugar-filled palate and, conveniently, Caffé Vita is just across from Voodoo. A little hole in the wall tacked onto a restaurant called Via Tribunaldi. Brilliant espresso that brought my mouth back to normality.
Nothing was bookmarked for this two-night stop in Portland. An enormous amount of planning and research went into just about every place we visited prior to getting to the northwest, so it was all about winging it and seeing what we came across.
One great thing about where we were staying was the complimentary wine and nibbles they put on every afternoon in the lobby. Did we partake? Stupid question, really.
A couple of glasses later and we ended up back in the Old Town for dinner at Via Tribunali where we had coffee. One Lupino (17) – sausage, coppa, tomato, mozzarella, basil & Grana Padano – for me; the marinara (11) – garlic, oregano, tomato & olive oil – for him. I love the atmosphere here. Those dark wood booths, the really dim lighting and a rather handsome wood fired oven over near the bar.
The one unfortunate thing about us breezing through Portland was not trying one of the food trucks. All across the downtown area you can see them lined up in semi-permanent positions; in vacant lots, on street corners, wherever. It would have been great just doing some kind of food truck crawl. A little booze involved, of course.
In a small city that’s known for its weirdness and micro brew, it’s the coffee this joint pumps out that I probably enjoy the most. Stumptown. A nickname that references back to the city clearing land to make way for urban growth – but for me it means a whole different thing.
We first learned of Stumptown Coffee Roasters in New York a couple of years prior, so here we were in the city from which it originates. I guess it was a given that we dropped into at least one of Portland’s five locations. Downtown, of course. It’s a spacious venue, looks like you’d expect it to, and has that all-too-familiar taste to its roast. Love it. In fact, we loved it twice.
One thing that’s on the Portland tourist trail is its Japanese Gardens; and unlike Voodoo Doughnuts, I really think it ought to make it to the agenda. But let’s have lunch first, yes?
Raven & Rose is a gastropub that resides in a little piece of Portland history. The Ladd Carriage House was built in the late 1800’s on what was then an estate. It housed horses, carriages, a hayloft, as well as being home to the estate’s coachman and gardener. Today it’s lovingly restored and is home to a restaurant and bar that serves up unpretentious food with a little bit of an English bent.
Ken’s artisan breads (3) made the first pick as well as a mighty fine steak tartar (13). A lot of meat for one, seeing the better half can’t really stomach the stuff. The gherkin and whatever other accoutrement you traditionally get on the side was already mixed into the diced meat. The only labour involved was popping that egg yolk, going in for the mix and shovelling it onto the toasted baguette.
The crab & shrimp cakes (13) fell a little flat in terms of flavour; relying on the tartare-like mayo for a lift. Celery root, apple and bitter leaves gave it some crunch.
The beet and orange salad (10) hit the mark with its yoghurt dressing and delightful little balls of goat cheese rolled in toasted almonds. All in all a nice light lunch.
Back to the Japanese Gardens, visiting them during fall is nothing short of a feast for the eyes. Meandering walkways through lush gardens, arched bridges, running water, twisted maple branches and leaves in flaming colour. The view over downtown is pretty fab, as well.