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A Day in Portland

May 31, 2011 Leave a comment

I have already written about our first half-day in Portland, last Friday. Now I’ll go over the highlights of our one full day there, Saturday.

1. Heathman Restaurant. We couldn’t get in the night before, but no problem Saturday morning. We had a fine breakfast. Then we headed up to the room and got ready for our outing.

2. Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center. We drove up to the Old Town Chinatown neighborhood, which includes the Portland New Chinatown/Japantown Historic District, and parked just a block up from the center. It opened at 11:00 and we were there a few minutes early. At 11:00, we headed in. There’s an on-going exhibit, Oregon Nikkei: Reflections of an American Community, that we were enjoying when a guide came up to us and asked if we’d been to the center before. Once we said no, she began to give us a tour. This was a mixed blessing, given that the exhibit itself seemed up to that point to be extremely well laid out, with excellent explanations of the photos and objects. She raced us ahead, not allowing us to absorb all the items, but she also had much to say that was of interest. Then another group walked in and she dropped us in mid-sentence. Fair enough. By that point, we were on the threshold of the exhibit we had come to see, a temporary exhibit scheduled to end a day later, Taken: FBI.

The exhibit is no longer listed online at the Center’s website. Too bad. Here’s a series of photos someone has posted. It was a small exhibit, focusing on a handful of the men and one woman who were rounded up by the FBI on December 7, 1941. Some of the relevant background is laid out in a series of signs as one enters the exhibit, the key point being that already in the 1930s, Roosevelt gave the FBI permission to start collecting information on Japanese Americans, so they would know who to pick up first if war came. Mind you, the people to round up were not dangerous. They weren’t spies, or collaborators. They were simply successful members of the community, community leaders. Those focused on in the exhibit led exemplary lives. Extraordinary lives even. As you read about how each of them lived before the war, and how they tried to restore their lives afterwards, the message of national madness, irrationality, and hysteria comes through clearly.

How could it happen? Well, the exhibit takes pains to remind the reader of the racial stereotyping taken for granted 70 years ago, not that that justifies anything. Only in the final exhibit signage is it hinted that we really haven’t advanced all that far, as we continue to narrow the rights of certain ethnic groups in response to war, a war we now find ourselves in that by definition will never end. And indeed we seem willingly to take away everybody’s rights. Witness last week’s extension of the Patriot Act.

But back to the internment of Japanese Americans. Just a week before our tour, the acting solicitor general of the US, Neal Katyal, wrote about errors made by his office at the time of Pearl Harbor.

The Ringle Report, from the Office of Naval Intelligence, found that only a small percentage of Japanese Americans posed a potential security threat, and that the most dangerous were already known or in custody. But the Solicitor General did not inform the Court of the report, despite warnings from Department of Justice attorneys that failing to alert the Court “might approximate the suppression of evidence.” Instead, he argued that it was impossible to segregate loyal Japanese Americans from disloyal ones. Nor did he inform the Court that a key set of allegations used to justify the internment, that Japanese Americans were using radio transmitters to communicate with enemy submarines off the West Coast, had been discredited by the FBI and FCC. And to make matters worse, he relied on gross generalizations about Japanese Americans, such as that they were disloyal and motivated by “racial solidarity.”

See also the LA times editorial on this last Friday.

3. Japanese American Historical Plaza. From the center, we walked two blocks over to the Willamette River to see the Japanese American Historical Plaza, a part of Portland’s Waterfront Park. As the park site explains, “On August 3, 1990, the Japanese American Historical Plaza was dedicated to the memory of those who were deported to inland internment camps during World War II. In the memorial garden, artwork tells the story of the Japanese people in the Northwest – of immigration, elderly immigrants, native-born Japanese Americans, soldiers who fought in US military services during the war, and the business people who worked hard and had hope for the children of the future. A sculpture by Jim Gion, Songs of Innocence, Songs of Experience, also graces the plaza.”

We walked around, read the poetry on the stones, took in the atmosphere, examined the Gion sculpture. Most people milling around were overflow from Portland’s Saturday Market , which was in full swing just south of the plaza. We’d gladly have checked it out, but time was running out on our parking meter, and we had to get on with our plans. We could easily have spent the full day in Portland. Or we could have spent the day visiting wineries. We had decided to try to squeeze both in, and it was time to head out of town for our one winery visit.

4. Red Curry Thai Restaurant. We weren’t looking to eat Thai food. All we wanted to do was drive out past Beaverton to Ponzi Vineyards, where we thought we might hook up with our niece Leigh Anne. But when we were on the highway headed out to Beaverton, she texted us that she was a ways out, so once we got off the highway, we decided to stop at the first reasonable restaurant to eat lunch and kill time. The first reasonable restaurant turned out to be Red Curry. In fact, it was the first restaurant period. Just past the exit was a new strip mall. We turned in, found a 7-11, an Indian food market, and Red Curry. It didn’t look like much as we drove past. It’s extremely narrow, though deep, and we couldn’t see much. Once we walked in, we found it to be surprisingly elegant. I see now that it’s been open only two months. The reviews at urbanspoon that I’ve just been looking at sum it up well: “A very nice, elegant Thai restaurant in the ‘burbs! Nice decor and tasty menu!” “Don’t let the small store front fool you. They did a very good job decorating the place. The food can rival some of the better Thai restaurants.” “just the best food ever. … a fantastic meal. Service was very gracious. Decor is way above caliber for a restaurant in an office park.” We weren’t looking for much, but we had an excellent meal.

5. Ponzi Vineyards. Why Ponzi? No good reason, but there were reasons: (i) It must be the single closest winery to downtown Portland. As one heads west, past housing developments, one crosses Roy Rogers Road and all the development ends. I missed it, but Gail says there’s a sign saying you’ve entered an agricultural district. And moments later, there’s a turn down a small road that deadends at the winery entrance. (ii) The hotel gave us a card for a free tasting for two. Not that the tasting would have been so expensive. But we decided to take advantage.

The tasting room was crowded, and became even more so while we did our business. They start everyone off with a free tasting of their pinot gris. Then one can get a three-wine flight for $10. This is what our card entitled us to for free, so we took it. A rosé, a white, a red. I think they call their first one their rosato. Next was their new release arneis, which we were told would be sold out within the week. And then their lower end pinot noir. From there we could pay another $5 for their pinot noir reserve and $2 for their dessert wine, the gelato. We tried them. Then we asked how the reserve compared to the next level up in their pinot noirs, which was not available for tasting. She did pull from somewhere a chardonnay for us to taste unasked. And then we proceeded to choose wines to make up a case, with the 15% case discount. Four of the gelato, a few of the higher end pinot noirs, three of the arneis, a chardonnay, another white. Now we have some tasting to do.

6. Japanese Garden. We never did meet up with our niece. It was time to head back to Portland so we could visit the famed Japanese Garden. First we had to find it. I knew it was in Washington Park, just above downtown. I suspected we could get off US 26 at the zoo exit before reaching downtown, on the assumption that the zoo is in Washington Park, and then drive around until we found the garden. But I didn’t trust my suspicion. Or listen to Gail’s advice to take Canyon Road, the next exit. Instead, we drove right into downtown, back out to the park, but entered the park on a road that bypasses everything and puts you right back onto US 26 heading out of town. At that point, when the zoo exit appeared again, I took it. This had the benefit that we did in fact get to drive through much of the park and see what it has to offer. The zoo. The children’s museum. The world forestry center discovery museum. The arboretum. Holocaust and Vietnam memorials. The famous rose garden. And finally, the Japanese Garden. We couldn’t find parking, and suddenly we were right out of the park, into a fancy residential neighborhood that looks down from the hills to downtown.

We parked, walked back to the shuttle stop, took the shuttle up the steep hill to the garden entrance, paid our $9.50 apiece, got a map, and entered. Map in hand, we followed the suggested route and saw many of the sights. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the amazing view that would have awaited us on another day of Mount Hood, sitting above the city. We never did see Mount Hood. It was quite a weekend of weather, with showers, hailstorms, sun, rain, but never views of the Cascades. And our time in the garden was probably the hottest, sunniest time of the entire trip. Highlights? Gosh. It’s all really quite lovely. I’d like to go again earlier in the day. We were near our limit in terms of taking in new sights by the time we got there.

We walked down the hill to the tennis courts, considered going down below the courts to the rose garden, but decided instead to call it a day. Minutes later, we were back in the Heathman.

7. Lacrosse. This was Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. Normally, that means I’m watching the NCAA men’s lacrosse championship semifinals. I wrote last week about the earlier rounds. We had already missed the first semifinal, in which Denver’s historic ride came to an end against Virginia, 14 to 8. But we were in our room in time to pick up the Maryland-Duke semifinal. Maryland won an amazingly low scoring game, 6-3. Time for dinner.

8. Pearl District. We headed up to the Pearl District, anticipating a meal at one of Portland’s renowned brew pubs. Alas, when we got to Deschutes, we were looking at a one-hour wait. We headed back to Henry’s Tavern, which sits within the old Blitz-Weinhard Brewery building. The doorman had warned us didn’t have the greatest food, though it did have the largest beer selection. And the wait was only 15 minutes. Soon we were seated. What we didn’t know was that we would then have a 40 minute wait for our appetizer, hummus and bread, which Gail wasn’t convinced we even needed. And 3 minutes later, our dinner came. A fiasco. The waitress apologized, I suggested we needed more than an apology, she said yes, of course, the manager already knew and would be coming to discuss adjustments. When the manager did come, she told us several tables had the same problem. The bread, it turns out, is really a thin pizza, essentially, with herbs but no toppings, and the pizza guy somehow flaked out. She assured us we wouldn’t have to pay for it, and we could have dessert on the house, which we did. Not the best experience. What can you do? Maybe next time we should wait at Deschutes.

9. Hotel. We had anticipated wandering through Powell’s Books after dinner, it being just the next block over. But dinner was so long that we were ready to call it an evening. We headed back to the hotel and our day came to an end.

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Categories: Food, Garden, History, Travel, Wine

Washington Wine

July 15, 2010 Leave a comment

In Saturday’s Wall Street Journal wine column, Lettie Teague discussed wines from Washington State. It’s always good to find out what an outside expert thinks about our local wines.

She notes early on, after describing herself as “a fan of Washington wines for many years, that “I’ve found their price-to-quality ratio to be particularly favorable. But thanks to the current global wine glut there are a lot of great deals around, at prices that make those of Washington’s producers seem rather high—and this has put a crimp in many Washington producers’ wine sales.” This is echoed by a Washington winemaker: “We can’t compete when Pahlmeyer Cabernet that used to be $90 a bottle is now $45 a bottle.” And we had our own experience along the same lines just two weeks ago when we visited Pete’s, a well-known Seattle wine shop, for advice on wine selection for a party we were hosting. Their wine expert steered us away from Washington wines toward French, Italian, and Spanish on the grounds that we would find better value there.

Read the article for more. I’ll conclude by listing the two most expensive of the five wines Teague recommends. I don’t see us getting the most expensive one, since it’s above our limit, even more so at a store. But we’ll keep our eye out for the first.

2007 Andrew Will ‘Sorella,’ $60
Although Chris Camarda, winemaker/owner of Andrew Will, makes many first-rate red blends, his flagship Sorella is a consistent favorite of mine. The 2007 is a big, deep, rich, intensely flavored Cabernet-dominant wine that will need some time to unwind. (The 2006 Sorella is also outstanding and worth a search.)

2007 Quilceda Creek Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, $125
This wine from is simply outstanding: a beautifully polished Cabernet that is drinkable now but will develop for decades. It rivals some of Napa’s best—at one-quarter the price. The catch: You have to be on the winery’s mailing list—or pay about twice as much at retail.

Categories: Wine

WSJ Wine Columnists

April 19, 2010 Leave a comment

I wasn’t much of a reader of wine writing until I discovered the Wall Street Journal’s wife-and-husband team, Dottie Gaiter and John Brecher, two of whose columns were the basis of posts of mine (here and here). Like many of their fans, I was stunned, on reading their column last December 26, to come upon their concluding note:

This is our 579th—and last—”Tastings” column. The past 12 years—a full case!—have been a joy, not because of the wine but because we had an opportunity to meet so many of you, both in person and virtually. Thank you.

Neither they nor the WSJ said more, then or since. I have missed them. What I valued wasn’t so much any congruence between their taste and mine — I hardly know my taste in any case — but rather their distinctive perspective on wine and its pleasures, the clarity with which it was expressed, and the accessibility of their writing for novices as well as experts. They felt like friends. Their avuncular advice was comforting, not patronizing.

In the months since they were dispatched, the WSJ has continued to publish wine articles in Saturday’s Weekend Journal, contributed by a variety of writers. I have taken brief looks at the articles, but left most unread. Two Saturdays ago, I saw that the wine article was by the novelist Jay McInerney, registered surprise, and moved on. Had I actually taken the trouble to read the piece, or jump to the note at the end, I would have discovered that he was being introduced as one of two new wine columnists, along with Lettie Teague. Two days ago, Teague made her debut. This time I noticed. Maybe it was the drawing of her at the top of the article that suggested to me she might be a regular. I looked for a note at the end, but there was none, such a note having already appeared a week earlier. I did a search and got the desired confirmation — not from the McInerney column of a week earlier but from the inaugural post at the new WSJ blog, “On Wine“, with the title “Introducing Jay and Lettie.”

I still miss my friends Dottie and John, but I’m looking forward to learning more about Jay’s and Lettie’s wine thoughts. The blog post introducing them is a brief conversation between the two. It concludes with Jay’s reply to Lettie’s question, “When it comes to eating, what wine do you think is impossible to match with food?” Jay says, “I can’t think of any wine which is impossible to match with food but I do think that Chateau d’Yquem probably shouldn’t be matched with food. It’s just too damn perfect on its own, and matching it with some sweet dessert is a a terrible idea.”

Gail and I will never be able to think of Chateau d’Yquem without recalling our dinner at Topper’s in Nantucket a few Septembers ago, when Gail asked as we ordered dessert if they had a Sauternes. Our waiter assured us that they did and brought a bottle of Chateau d’Yquem to the table to pour her a glass. It was the best Sauternes she ever had. We were unaware that one pays a premium for Chateau d’Yquem. Such quality doesn’t come cheaply. And since it wasn’t listed on the dessert menu, we hadn’t seen a price. We saw it soon enough, when the check came. Maybe not so much in the world of such wines. A mere $65. But it sure was a surprise to us.

Speaking of expensive glasses of wine, Roger Lowenstein’s new book The End of Wall Street has a revealing anecdote that Daniel Gross quotes in yesterday’s NYT review of the book.

Well into the crisis, with Citi’s stock price in single digits, its chief executive, Vikram Pandit, was spotted having lunch “at Le Bernardin, the top-rated restaurant in New York.” Seeing nothing he wanted by the glass, he “ordered a $350 bottle so that, as he explained, he could savor ‘a glass of wine worth drinking.’ Pandit drank just one glass.” The tableau suggests that Lowenstein’s book is misnamed. Judging by the recent bonuses; by the Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein’s declaration that investment bankers are “doing God’s work”; and by the opposition to comprehensive reform as well as by Pandit’s $350 glass of wine, Wall Street is still very much alive.

Categories: Journalism, Wine

DeRose: Oenology+Seismology

November 29, 2009 2 comments

The Wall Street Journal’s front-page daily feature yesterday was about DeRose Vineyards, notable for both its wine and its location on the San Andreas fault. If you have access, I recommend the article as well as the accompanying slide show and video. As explained in the article,

DeRose Vineyards has become a must-see for geologists, seismologists and science buffs. They come for the San Andreas Fault, which cuts a clear path through the winery’s main building. One side of the structure sits on the Pacific plate, the other on the North American. The fault is moving slowly, and tearing apart the building at the rate of about half an inch a year.

A jagged crack splits the office floor and runs through the warehouse between the fermentation tanks and the aging barrels. An outer wall is warped. A doorway is barely usable. A long concrete ditch is distorted. …

But what scientists consider a geological marvel is an expensive nuisance to the winery’s owners.

“We just keep patching,” says Pat DeRose, who bought the winery in 1988 with another family. In the past 40 years, one side of the building has moved around a foot and a half northwest, while the other side has stayed put. That has required regular fixes to the roof and walls.

The video is narrated by Tamara Audi, the author of the article. She notes at the end that “if you work on the San Andreas, it helps to have a sense of humor and plenty of wine.” One of the staff then notes, “Eventually LA will be here. We’ll have beach front property.”

As for the vineyard itself, the history page at its website suggests that it may be the oldest winery in California. Forty of its 100 acres were planted before 1900 and are “dry-farmed in deep sandy-loam soils on terraced hillsides.”

I’d sure like to visit. Maybe we will, when we take our long-deferred first trip to Monterey. Meanwhile, I’m going to order a couple of their wines. Don’t tell Gail. It will be a surprise.

Categories: Newspapers, Science, Wine

Alsatian Pinot Blanc

May 24, 2009 Leave a comment
La Maison Pierre Sparr

La Maison Pierre Sparr

I mentioned in a January post that I don’t know much about wine, but I do enjoy reading Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher’s weekly wine column in the Saturday Wall Street Journal. That earlier post was written in response to their article on Washington Syrah. Yesterday’s topic was Alsatian Pinot Blanc. Here’s some of what they had to say:

We’re partial to Alsatian wines in general, though we have raised some alarms over the past few years about a rising level of sweetness in Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. We have a special soft spot for Pinot Blanc because, to us, it just seems so very relaxed and easy—and inexpensive to boot. … Under the rules of Alsace, a wine called Pinot Blanc can actually be made from any blend of Pinot Blanc and a grape called Auxerrois, which is Pinot Blanc’s traditional blending partner in Alsace. As a result, some wines labeled Pinot Blanc are 100% varietal Pinot Blanc, while Schlumberger, for instance, is 30% Pinot Blanc and 70% Auxerrois. …

We always say there are no guarantees in wine, but we [are] convinced that there are few wines on shelves or restaurant lists as reliably pleasant and filled with personality as Alsatian Pinot Blanc.

In Dottie and John’s tasting, they found that their favorite was Domaines Schlumberger ‘Les Princes Abbés’ 2006. $14.95. Their best value was Pierre Sparr Reserve 2007. As they always note with their tastings, you may not find the wines they’ve tasted, but there are many more, with availability varying greatly from store to store, so just give it a try.

We don’t drink a lot of white wine, but I figured I would keep an eye out for a bottle of Pinot Blanc. And my opportunity arose just hours later, when I went down to our local grocery store, Bert’s, in Madison Park. They have a large wine selection and an in-house expert, who is usually there on Saturdays. But he was nowhere to be found yesterday. And I couldn’t even remember what it was I was looking for. I hadn’t thought about buying wine until I walked in and remembered the article.

Pinot something. And white. So not Pinot Noir. Alsace. So I looked for the import shelves, then the France shelves. And looked first at the recommended bottles, which are laid out flat in a rack for display, separate from the ones stored vertically on the shelves. One jumped out at me. The label said Pierre Sparr. Alsace. I found it! That was fast. Oh, wait. Pinot Gris. Oh darn. What color am I looking for? Not Noir. I want a white wine. But Pinot Gris is a white wine. Don’t I want Blanc though? Can’t find it. Well, maybe it was Pinot Gris I read about. Maybe I’m confused.

I bought it.

As soon as I got home I confirmed my stupidity. Still, I hadn’t done anything bad. I just didn’t get to experiment with an Alsatian Pinot Blanc. That will have to await another day. Meanwhile, we can drink the Pinot Gris.

Which is what we did. I made spaghetti, already the planned dinner. Whether Pinot Gris is the best wine for the food or not didn’t much matter. It’s what we were going to have. And it worked. I could imagine better wines, but we were happy. I lack a suitable vocabulary, so I can’t say much more. The label tells me that the wine has a “hint of peach and quince flavors. Good weight and outstanding balance. The finish is crisp and dry.” Maybe so. Not sure about the quince though.

After dinner, I read up a bit on Pierre Sparr. They go back to 1680, are now run by the 9th generation, who are ready to perpetuate the tradition and passion into the 21st century. (The website is in French. This is my attempt at translation.) And they’re in Sigolsheim, just outside Colmar. I might have driven past their vineyards during my one visit to Colmar, at the beginning of February 1983. Not the best day in my life. But that’s another matter.

Colmar itself is a little more than halfway from Strasbourg south to Basel, and is home most famously of the Isenheim Altarpiece, Matthias Grünewald great crucifixion. Worth a major detour. Maybe we’ll go next year. And have Pinot Blanc.

Categories: Stupidity, Wine