Portland

PORTLAND, Oregon, has serious cool factor—and great food. Instead of sitting on its hipster laurels, this PNW city keeps pushing palates…eat it up!

portland6Portland is still the new frontier. Here, amidst the tattooed, bearded, thick-framed-glasses-wearing crowd—it’s as if this Pacific Northwest city, tucked under Mt. Hood, is a homing beacon for hipsters—there’s the warm embrace of creative types with some robust entrepreneurial spirit. “Keep Portland weird,” states a legendary mural (and adopted city slogan of sorts). Another long-standing emblematic sign: the neon white stag. And this odd factor is just plain charming—with some rather tasty side dishes.

portland2Because this oft-satirized hipster-haven is the happening food-and-drink hub of the PNW—think farm-to-fork, branch-to-bottle, leaf-to-cup. From ramen bowls at Noraneko (where you can also have a soju chuhai, the Japanese version of an after-work cocktail) to doughnuts (skip the line at Voodoo for a Dirty Wu at Pip’s), Portland puts on an unrivalled culinary show of which the following is just a small sample…

EAST BY WEST The Southeast Asian street-food cuisine of Pok Pok blew open a burgeoning Asian-fare scene in Portland (and now has recent Brooklyn and LA outposts beyond its PDX birthplace). There’s also Han Oak (named for traditional Korean “hanok” homes), Langbaan (a culinary speakeasy that means “back of the house” in Thai), Hat Yai (Langbaan’s counter-service off-shoot) and the first North American locations of Marukin and Afuri, Tokyo ramen houses with a cult following.

SAMPLE: Korean bibimbap (“mixed rice”) and steamed buns at Kim Jong Smokehouse, a collaboration between a few of Portland’s hottest chefs housed in the new Pine Street Market food hall.

DRINK ME Like the Alice in Wonderland directive, Portland encourages serious sipping. Besides the well-known coffee scene—this is the home of Stumptown Roasters, after all (also a moniker for the city itself)—there’s also a tea movement. This is where Tazo tea started, the founder of which went on to quietly create Smith Teamaker—the best in America, some say. There’s also, of course, kombucha (try Brew Dr.) and distilled tea spirits (at Thomas and Sons Distillery), made with varieties like pine-smoked Lapsang Souchong, that simply don’t fit neatly into any existing category—much like PDX itself. SAMPLE: The new fernet-style digestif by Thomas and Sons Distillery, redolent with local ingredients of Douglas Fir, Willamette Hops and birch bark.

POD CAST Portland was an early adopter of food trucks or carts. And with more than 600 citywide, from Viking Soul Food (lefse and gravlax) to newer kid-on-the-block Chicken and Guns (oak-fired Latin chicken), the options are limitless. Which is why this Portland particularity makes perfect sense: food-cart pods. Clustered in empty lots, the congregations of carts become al fresco dining and community spaces, PDX style. Cartlandia is a “super pod” of some 30 carts (featuring fare from 15 countries) and a full-on bar (with 18 beers and ciders on tap). Cartopia has outdoor movie screenings and is a late-night stop, while Tidbit, the newest pod, goes beyond the food and drink with pretty lights, picnic tables, a fire pit and Airstream boutique.

SAMPLE: A Smaaken waffle sandwich (made with local, organic, heirloom varietal wheat, of course)—try the bacon-forward Van Gogh or the veggie Popeye—at the Tidbit pod.

portland3And, now, after all that feasting, “go by bike,” as they say in Portlandia. — Barb Sligl

For more on all the weird and wonderful things to do and sample in Portland, go to travelportland.com.

 

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Grand Cayman

GRAND CAYMAN has all the Caribbean musts—beach, snorkelling, marine life, sunsets…and enough food and drink to warrant an annual festival.

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Ensconced beachside, on an alabaster swath of sand guarded by elegant hotels, stretching 10 km along Grand Cayman’s west coast, nuzzled by waters so clear you can see starfish on the bottom, I wonder how I’m going to fill tomorrow.

grandcayman07Right now, entertained by a perfect sunset (one of the Caribbean’s best), I don’t feel like doing anything, though tonight it’s fine dining at Abacus at Camana Bay (camanabay.com), a modern town centre boasting boutiques and other fine dining options beside the water. Wherever I dine, I’ll be sated: many consider the Cayman Islands the Caribbean’s culinary capital. It’s also home to the annual Cayman Cookout festival with renowned host, Chef Eric Ripert (this year it’s on from January 12–17, @caymancookout).

Tomorrow’s first stop, I decide, will be a helping of history. Pedro St. James (pedrostjames.ky) is both refurbished 17th-century great house and host to an interpretive centre worthy of Disney World. I’ll stroll here by the sea amid stands of banana and mahogany trees, tour the outdoor kitchen and then explore the furnished house itself.

Then maybe bond with nature. Welcome to the Cayman Turtle Centre (turtle.ky)—combination wildlife sanctuary, turtle hatchery and theme park—where I’ll learn about efforts to save the sea turtle, pet these huge animals and maybe even swim with them. Or maybe I’ll just cross the road and swim with the dolphins at Dolphin Discovery.

Or I’ll get really close to nature—and bond with the sea. Maybe book a catamaran tour to Stingray City (stingraycitytrips.com) , snorkelling with those graceful creatures—or take a side trip to Starfish Point where I stand in water up to my waist as the stingrays wheel and soar between my legs.

grandcayman04Then it’s time for some R and R. Make for Rum Point (rumpointclub.com) . Stake out a claim in the shade near a congregation of pastel-painted picnic tables; do frosty Caybrew beers at Wreck Bar, once rated among the world’s top-50 beach bars. Go for a swim in bathtub-warm waters.

After some downtime, maybe I’ll take things up a notch: the Cayman Islands are considered among the world’s best dive destinations. I’ll take a lesson in the pool at the Westin Grand Cayman (westingrandcayman.com), then out on—or in—the water. Maybe I’ll dive Babylon or Ghost Mountain.

grandcayman05We’ll stop en route back to our hotel and be mesmerized by the beauty and might of the Caribbean at Blow Holes . Then, it’s home James, for ringside seats to another spectacular sunset , the perfect finish to another perfect Grand Cayman day. — Mark Stevens

To discover even more activities to round out perfect stay here, go to visitcaymanislands.ca.

 

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Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix has plenty of Arizona’s desert heat but it has also sparked a spicy and vibrant art and culinary scene…with some sweet spots to rejuvenate

After my Lotus Blossoming Chakra massage, I discover that some of my seven chakras aren’t quite as aligned as they should be. Apparently I need to meditate more. I try to remedy this immediately by walking the labyrinth at The Boulders Resort & Spa. Round and round I shuffle, the scent of sage wafting over me, the sun warming my face, the dry desert wind softly fluttering my robe. I think it’s working.

Or it could just be this place, the huge rocks the resort is named for, the tall saguaro cacti, the amber and rusty hues of the baked landscape. The next morning I rise early in my adobe-style casita at The Boulders (theboulders.com) and venture into the desert for a run as the sun is just starting to spread its heat. I feel my chakras realigning…

2The Sonoran desert may seem harsh but it teems with beauty. Closer to Phoenix (The Boulders is in Scottsdale, just outside Arizona’s capital and largest city), I walk through the Desert Botanical Garden (one of only a few botanical gardens accredited by the American Association of Museums; dbg.org) and then hike nearby Camelback Mountain to marvel at the range of colour this arid land sprouts, like the magenta spikes of a barrel cactus.

3The southwest vibe continues at The Camby (thecamby.com), one of Phoenix’s newest hotels (a major refurb and rebrand on the site of an old Rat Pack bar and former Ritz property). Inspired by the surrounding desert (its name is a play on that iconic Camelback peak), the swish hotel is infused with the five Cs of Arizona—cattle, copper, citrus, climate, cotton—including lamps the shape of cow skulls and grapefruits, turquoise and copper accents, luxe pima-cotton sheets and local art.

4And there’s art everywhere. In the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM; mim.org), a sophisticated conference/meeting site as well as repository of some 15,000 musical instruments from around the world, art is in the form of objects like a horse jawbone from Mexico that rattles when its teeth are scraped or struck with a nail. In downtown Phoenix, Roosevelt Row or RoRo (rooseveltrow.org) is a wild display of commissioned street art that’s as vibrant as some of those desert blooms. The revitalized ’hood is home to artist studios, galleries, boutiques, co-ops, small-stage theatres, coffee shops, restaurants and even a craft brewery and gastropub, Angel’s Trumpet Ale House (angelstrumpetalehouse.com). Every first Friday night of the month, thousands of people gather in revitalized RoRo for the First Friday Art Walk.

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At the nearby Phoenix Public Market Café (phxpublicmarket.com), art comes in the form of local food, from coffee roasted in nearby Tempe (try the Desert Dawn: oj and a splash of lemon topped with cold brew coffee) to “Eat the Rainbow,” a combo of farmers’ market veggies (and cool t-shirt), or the Arroz & Frijoles bowl, a healthy, heaping, hipster take on southwestern fare. More foodie inspiration is found uptown at The Yard, at the graffiti-art-clad Barrio Urbano (barriourbanophx.com). It’s an urban take on traditional Mexican cuisine by Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza, a four-time James Beard Award nominee, where craft cocktails and killer tacos come together in an atmosphere that’s part gritty barrio and part art gallery. And it’s yet another way of finding that desert zen. — Barb Sligl

For more info on Phoenix, go to visitphoenix.com, for
nearby Scottsdale, check out experiencescottsdale.com,
and for Arizona, visit visitarizona.com.

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