Anyone who knows me can tell you that I am a total dork about my birthday. I have been this way since I can remember. Counting down the days to my birthday (starting one month prior) while still in grade school is one thing. Doing the same into my thirties is another.
Now that I am officially in my late thirties (!) and have two kids with their own birthdays to get excited about, I can report that I have become slightly less of a dork. I can no longer answer automatically how many days are left in the countdown – I actually have to count. On the big day, I no longer feel like I want to go up to the top of the Space Needle and shout so the whole world can hear, “Today is my birthday!” However, I do still kind of expect everyone who I interact with (including complete strangers) to wish me a happy birthday. Is it because I am a summer baby? I never had the cupcakes brought to school and no classroom full of children ever sang to me – am I still searching for that attention? And if so, why?
Fortunately, my husband indulges me and works hard to make me feel special on my birthday. This year we went to Portland for the weekend without our kids. This was the first time we have been away from both of them and, as much as I adore them, it was much needed. The idea of having one full day of just doing whatever we (all right I) wanted without having to take their eating and sleeping schedules into account was, well, glorious. We didn’t even really mind that it took us 4 1/2 hours to get there and back because traffic was awful – there were no children in the car and we actually had time to talk.
What do you do in Portland? Well, eat and shop. It is a much smaller city than Seattle, but has an incredibly vibrant restaurant scene and fantastic boutique shopping. I spent quite a bit of time researching restaurants and obsessing over which two would be perfect. I whittled it down to about 5 options because all the cross-referencing I did brought up the same five. Based on menus I saw online, I made the choice to go to Park Kitchen and Bluehour.
Friday night we went to Park Kitchen and I really can’t say enough good things about the place. We had an 8:30 reservation (pushed back from 7:30 because of the traffic) and they weren’t ready to seat us. We grabbed a seat in the bar and Randy proceeded to almost pass out. He is hypoglycemic and for some reason, it takes him a while to realize that he desperately needs food. Sometimes I can recognize that he is being weird because he needs to eat and sometimes I just think he is being weird. Fortunately, he was able to ask the hostess for some bread and the most incredible giant slices of bread were in front of us before we knew it. As an apology for the table taking so long (we didn’t sit until after 9), she also brought us some salted cod cakes which looked like giant fried golf balls and Randy said tasted like fish sticks – in a good way.
After that, the dinner was just lovely. We had an amazing server named Holly who, in addition to having just the right amount of cheer, was incredibly knowledgeable and opinionated about the menu. I love it when a server tell you with zeal what their favorite dish is and what to stay away from. As she brought us our salads (farro with giant chunks of feta and fava beans for me; green bean, apricot, and hazelnut with a caramel crouton for Randy), I mentioned that we had reservations at Bluehour the next night. She made a face. Was it too swanky, I wondered. She said that indeed it is kind of a see-and-be-seen place, and if we just wanted to eat good food, we should go to Lovely Hula Hands, another restaurant in the five I chosen from.
Our entrees continued in the same vein as the appetizers, interesting and delicious. I had stone-ground grits that were somehow the consistency of risotto (but with that amazing rich and buttery corn flavor), topped with a trio of beans – fava, wax, and kidney. They had been tossed with some kind of vinaigrette so the balance of rich, salty and acidic was perfect. Randy told me over and over again that I had to write about the lamb sausage he was loving to death, although I assured him that it really didn’t have a place on a vegetarian blog.
As the meal wore on, and we loved the vibe more and more at this simple and yet sophisticated restaurant, I made up my mind. For my birthday, swanky was out and simple was in. We cancelled the reservation at Bluehour and decided to drive to a totally different part of town to check out Lovely Hula Hands.
We never did get the story behind the name of this place. Our experience there was good – it is on a very cool street and the place is small and sweet. They don’t take reservations so we had to wait a good long while which kind of spoiled the mood of the evening for us. The food however, was terrific. Randy had a zucchini carpaccio for a starter and I had a perfectly dressed arugula salad with hazelnuts and pecorino cheese. My imaginative entree made me curse all the risottos and pastas I have had at Seattle restaurants. Two huge cornmeal crepes filled with greens and ricotta, topped with a salsa of tomatoes and beans. Take that Restaurant Zoe!