Caffeinated Change in PDX

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Sleeping in Portland’s Lloyd District: Caffeinated Change

I’m on top of the world, drinking happy hour alcohol and checking out pretty people playing hookie from work. We are all pooled around the Altabira City Tavern, which crowns the alluring Hotel Eastlund, a cocktail olive’s throw away from the Oregon Convention Center.

The unobstructed sky on this penthouse patio is blue, the air is warm and it’s a crazy wonderful Friday afternoon in October in Portland’s Lloyd District.

This commercial neighborhood, which straddles North and Northeast Portland, is unique because people pop in and out all the time. As one of the city’s entertainment epicenters – with a crowd-drawing cluster of venues from the convention center, Moda Center, Veterans Memorial Coliseum to the Lloyd Center shopping mall – this pocket receives thousands of daily passersby.

Making it more interesting: This may be the only area tourists will ever see of Portland and yet for most of us, we just glide through it.

Now there are reasons to stop.

I was a pop-in myself. On my quest to stay in all of Portland’s almost 100 distinct neighborhoods, I spent time in the Lloyd District, which touches the Willamette River and sits on top of the fast-changing Central Eastside Industrial District.

Although there are new apartments in the area and more residential buildings rising, I stayed at the Hotel Eastlund, where a large lobby photo of Brigitte Bardot is almost as stunning-looking as the hotel patrons.

Stroll around the mid-century swank styling and taste anything at Citizen Baker bakery-cafe and wine bar, or the rooftop Altabira City Tavern, and try to find evidence that this was once a Red Lion Inn. (Pointing to the Denny’s across the street doesn’t count.) The original 1962 Cosmopolitan Motor Hotel has nice bones.

It’s about time this commercial area is getting attention for being fashionable. The Lloyd District was named after oil millionaire and real estate developer Ralph Lloyd, who, starting in the early 1900s, tried for a half century to persuade businesses and bankers on the west side of the Willamette that the east side was a potential gusher.

Lloyd got richer buying land and his name would be blazoned across the world’s largest shopping center in 1960, but he never did deliver his dream of a cloud-piercing 24-story hotel before the Great Depression and later WWII, flattened everything.

Now look around. As the Oregonian’s restaurant reporter and critic Michael Russell recently pointed out, there are plenty of pubs in which to stew between the Lloyd District’s boundaries of Northeast Broadway and Interstate 84. For me, the Altabira City Tavern lured me in with its elevated cuisine and scene.

During my stay, I also dropped into the convention center, where different trade shows pop up each week. I found myself cheering on the Latte Art World Championship Open competition, a caffeinated showdown of baristas, during the Coffee Fest show.

Sharing the giant convention center hall were vendors hyping products to make, market and consume coffee. One loop around the trade show and I had ingested enough creamy lattes, souped-up coffees and gourmet teas to fly me to my self-appointed next stop.

Instead, I took advantage of the buses, Portland Streetcars and MAX trains that cross the district. Soon, I was downtown, looking through the window of Shift Drinks, at 1200 SW Morrison St., in search of a pop-up restaurant called Nomad PDX that temporarily occupies the upstairs.

Ignore the folding chairs and makeshift decor. Instead focus on the 15 inventive tastes Chefs Ryan Fox (formerly Castagna’s sous chef) and Ali Matteis clearly spent all day preparing.

Here’s what they call “snacks”: Petrale sole tartare with coriander, fennel and caraway oil mousse and raw hazelnuts; steamed mussel with sunchoke milk and crispy nori; and beef tartare dressed in Japanese mayonnaise and smoked shallot and topped with smoked beef fat powder.

What they called a Pastrami Reuben was a domino-tile size of pastrami beef tongue with their version of Thousand Island sauce, sauerkraut gel and crispy rye and cheese.

Are they chefs or scientists? One course involved submerging beets in burning charcoals until white carbon started to form. The carbon was peeled off to expose a perfectly caramelized beet that was then sliced and charred. It was topped with a mousse of horseradish that was frozen and smashed in liquid nitrogen. A sauce of reduced sherry vinegar and beets was poured over it.

I – who qualify for AARP perks – sat at a table with a couple celebrating her 39th birthday and a new college grad taking his girl out for a special dinner. Minutes into the meal we knew we had a lot in common. Not only did we all request to start dinner at 8:30 p.m. – instead of 7:30 p.m. or 9:30 or even 11 p.m. – we were equally curious about Nomad PDX and willing to pay $100 each to experience it.

Snacks were followed by what they call an Umami Bomb: A butter-poached lobster mushroom, which they foraged themselves. The shiitake mushroom sauce was finished with orange, cocktail style. “I like to sip this one,” said Chef Matteis.

During the three-hour dinner, there was also braised pork cheek, cauliflower puree and baby cauliflower caviar and three desserts. The first sweet was caramelized pear custard on toasted walnuts, a caramel made from barley and a feuilletine cookie.

Fox’s sweet parsnip puree was paired with vanilla ice cream, cocoa-coffee granola and crispy parsnips. Matteis’ so-called apple pie was a warm caramelized apple puree, cinnamon-nutmeg ice-cream and brown sugar streusel.

The last taste: A French-style canele made with bourbon rather than rum.

Maybe NomadPDX should be lured to the east side?

At close to midnight, I had to wait longer for the Max train to arrive but then it was a hop, skip and a jump back to the convention center station and my hotel room, where I dropped into bed and thanked the oil baron Lloyd for pushing for an east-side upgrade.

From Oregon Live | The Oregonian ● November 17, 2015 ● By Janet Eastman