It is impossible to spend any time in Portland, Oregon without talking about food. Portland, is a foodie paradise, famed for both its restaurants and its food carts, which line every parking lot and serve all kinds of global cuisines. But the first night I got in I was too tired to do much other than make a cursory walk down the main street, get shouted at by the local crazies (Portland, it has to be said, has more than its fair share) and retreat to my hotel room to stare at the 62 year old woman who kept inexplicably appearing in my mirror while flicking absently through the 900 television channels in an attempt to find something that wasn’t either American football or Big Weather. I was going to have to do room service.
Even the best hotels can be disappointing when it comes to room service, but the bouillabaisse at the Heathman was a thing of beauty, its saffron broth so delicate and its prawns so meaty that the involuntary noises I kept making may have left the occupants of the next room thinking I was on a second honeymoon. People of Room 909 – I am sorry. But it was Just. So. Good.
So what to do on my day off, but eat? My friend Marina, a food critic, had given me a handful of suggestions where to go (she had to be forced back onto the plane home a few weeks ago, like someone undergoing an extradition), and I set out first thing Sunday morning to her first: Tasty&Alder, allegedly a 10 minute walk from my hotel.
I decided to look cheerfully upon my inability to go three blocks without getting completely lost (Walking is good for you!) and dodging the crazies (great for reflexes!), tried not to think too hard about the numerous texts I had sent my husband – PLEASE SEND DIRECTIONS COMPLETELY LOST IN PORTLAND (it’s good to stay in touch!) and finally after a mile or so, I found it – and its queue. Turns out the whole of Portland had decided that Tasty&Alder was the place to go on Sunday morning.
There are many crummy things about getting older, but one of the greats is that you are unafraid to sit in a restaurant – even a hipster paradise like this – on your own. Even better, if you ARE on your own, you will find yourself shepherded past the block-long queue and given that perfect little single seat by the window.
I asked them to give me whatever was good – Bim Bop Bacon! Came the reply – , and only balked a little at the thought of something that involved Kimchi for breakfast. But oh my. OH MY. Bacon, egg, rice, pickled cabbage, carrot and something spicy arrived in an individual skillet. Only the presence of numerous young men with beards stopped me making the same noises I had made in my hotel room. It was glorious; crispy and buttery and spicy and silky in all the right orders. And afterwards the ‘chocolate potato doughnut’, the size of an egg, nestling in crème Anglais, made me realise whatever Marina’s suggestions for lunch, I was not going to be able to fit in another thing before sundown. (I did. Of course .)
Talking of involuntary noises, I had another first yesterday – my first massage in a hotel room. My back suffers on tour, partly because I’m a tense flyer, but partly because my suitcase weighs roughly as much as a school bus, and I had been persuaded by my friend Jackie that this would be a great end to my day off. As the allotted time approached, – 6pm – I became increasingly nervous. This wasn’t helped by the fact that I decided to have a hot bath beforehand, and as I got out, the plug mechanism came off in my hand, which necessitated the arrival of another young man with a beard (I swear if I stay in Portland long enough I’ll grow one too) and a toolkit to fix it, while I hovered in my dressing gown and tried not to look like the opening scenes of a really bad porno movie. “Why, young man, I seem to have a problem with my plumbing!”.
I needn’t have worried – my masseuse was female, and five and a half months pregnant. We got chatting – or at least I chatted as much as is possible while someone is levering their elbows under your shoulder blades – and she told me that occasionally massaging someone in their hotel rooms can be a tricky business. With men, especially, the massage can have predictable side effects. Most men, she said, are embarrassed and honest about what has happened, which was fine. There had only been one who insisted on going on and on about the size of his – um – involuntary reflex. But the most embarrassing had been a woman, whose noisy pleasure in her massage had been such that a colleague had felt obliged to knock on the door and check what was going on (answer: the removal of several large knots from her C4-5 spinal section).
So even if you hear something very odd going on in the next room, never assume. It may actually be down to a pregnant woman with really good thumbs. Or a bloody good bouillabaisse.