Woodsman Tavern: Overpriced, Overhyped

My usual practice is if I eat out at a place and I don’t like it, I don’t write about it.  The Woodsman Tavern falls into this weird category where I would say the food is good but I wouldn’t recommend it because it is so overpriced.  As I mentioned in my last post, Portland is really lucky to have so many great places to eat.  One benefit of us living in such a foodie town is that even the neighborhood pub has to step it up a notch because we expect more.  The other side to that coin is if you are going to bill yourself as a high end restaurant you better freaking bring it.  The Woodsman Tavern tries that but falls short.

We went to the Woodsman for a friend’s birthday party and we sampled a variety of things on the menu. Nothing was bad, it was all good. But there was also nothing outstanding about it. It was, I think by Portland standards, average. For the price that you are paying ($25-$29 main course, $9-$12 apps) you should be saying wow. Also, the portions sizes for the main courses were huge, too big in fact. I like leaving a restaurant feeling full not gross and I don’t know about you but when I pay $30 for a meal I feel compelled to eat it.

As for the service I thought it was average. My biggest gripe was waiting 20 minutes for a server to show up at our table after being seated. Which is not a huge deal just annoying. But again, at this price point I expect better.

If I had one word to describe the Woodsman it would be overpriced.  I do not mind paying for an expensive dinner if the food is worth it.  At this price point there are better options in Portland, where you can have a meal and think wow.  If you want to drop a $100+ on dinner I would suggest going down the street to Ava Genes. Nothing at this place justifies the cost. This is Portland, there are plenty of places where you can get better food for less money, so why come here?

The bottom line is the food is by Portland standards is good but not great, and the price just makes it not worth going to. They should cut the portion sizes in half and reduce the prices by a third and this place would be worth going to.

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When It Comes to Restaurants, Do Portlanders Know They’re Spoiled?

It has been awhile since I posted a restaurant review.  Which, at least on my end is poor blogging practice since restaurant reviews are some of my more popular posts.  It’s not like I haven’t gone out much, we still go out once a week, but I haven’t really been any place spectacular.  I usually reserve the restaurant posts on here for places that I think are worth going out of the way for.  That isn’t to say where we have been has not been good, they have, just not special.  But then something occurred to me the other day.

We were having dinner at our neighborhood pub, Darcy’s up in St. Johns.  This is the kind of place where you can order breakfast for dinner (which I did).

photo (40)

My wife ordered a bacon cheese burger, which is a half pound of angus certified beef, and a darn good burger.

photo (41)

So I’m eating dinner, drinking a beer (West Coast IPA, soo good and I couldn’t believe they had it on tap), and I think to myself man we have it good!  This place has at least 10 very good craft beers on tap and the food is good.  In spite of all that I would say for Portland standards, this place is average.  You will never see this place make a list on the Oregonian, Willamette Week, or Portland Monthly.

The great thing about Portland is that every neighborhood in town has a place like Darcy’s.  Where you can get good food and find a variety of high quality craft beer. Portland is such a foodie town that I think it lifts up all restaurants because the customers just expect more and that is a great thing.

So I write this to say, if you are visiting Portland don’t forget the places where locals go day in and day out.  Visit the marquee spots but try these places as well.  You are not going to find a list of these places.  You just have go out and explore but chances are if you just walk around and see a crowd of locals you can bet it’s worth trying.

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More Direct Flights to Europe From PDX

In the last month there has been some positive news for PDX based travelers.  For those of us who use PDX as our home airport our options for direct flights for international travel are limited.  PDX has only one direct flight to Asia, on Delta to Tokyo, and one direct flight to Europe, on Delta to Amsterdam.  Next summer that is going to change.

Direct Flights to Iceland

Starting in May 2015 Icelandair is going to start direct flights from Portland to Reykjavik on Wednesdays and Fridays. This is great news for us locals, for two reasons.  One, Iceland is cool.  Second,  Icelandair is a great airline for connecting to the rest of Europe.  Check out their route map.

As you can see, Icelandair has a lot of destinations in Europe.  But, that is not what makes Icelandair good for connecting to Europe.  What is cool about Icelandair, is that they allow stopovers in Iceland for up to 7 days at no additional cost.  The flight from Portland is also short at about 7 hours.  From Portland you can take a relatively short flight to Iceland, stopover for a few days, then continue on to your destination.  It is two vacations on one ticket.

Direct Flights to Germany

Starting in July of 2015 Condor will operate direct flights from PDX to Frankfurt on Tuesdays and Fridays. Lufthansa used to operate direct flights on this route until is was discontinued in 2009.  I’m happy that Portland will have another flight directly to continental Europe.

For those of us that also geek out about frequent flyer miles, this flight is also an award flight gem. Condor is a member the Miles & More frequent flyer program.  A one way ticket from Portland to Frankfurt is only 25,000 miles in economy.  How can you get Miles & More miles? Currently the Lufthansa credit card has a 50,000 mile sign up bonus. Lufthansa is also a member of the Miles & More program, meaning the miles from that credit card can be redeemed on Condor.

The bottom line here is that more direct flights to any destination is a plus for those of us who fly out of PDX.  I’m doubly excited that PDX is increasing the number of direct flights to Europe.  I hope these are a commercial success for the airport so more airlines may be encouraged to add routes.

Update:  Looks like flights on Condor will start June 19th.  

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Challenge Accepted Costco! Can I beat a car rental price on Costco with Priceline?

I am a huge fan of Priceline for rental cars.  I think last minute bidding with Priceline is THE way to go for cheap rental cars.  Although I think Costco just made it hard on me.

I am currently finalizing some of the details for our upcoming trip to Hawaii.  We booked airfare a few months ago using frequent flyer miles and the hotel is just about wrapped up. On Monday I thought I would check out rental car prices.  My typical strategy for rental cars, which you can read about in detail here, is to book a reservation I can cancel and then make a last minute bid with Priceline the week before I leave.  Well Costco Travel just made that a challenge.  When I checked Costco on Monday I found a rental price of $12.50/day for an intermediate car.   Needless to say I made that reservation. Total price including taxes was $158.  Beating that with Priceline is going to be a challenge.  Well, challenge accepted Costco, challenge accepted.

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Welcoming 6 New Portland Breweries, Map Updated.

Local Beer

Local Beer

So I last updated my Map of Portland Breweries in 2012.  It has been in desperate need of an update.  In the last couple of years there have been some major additions and changes in the Portland craft beer seen.  Amnesia left town to go the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, in its place is Stormbreaker Brewing. In the same neighborhood we also welcome two additional breweries, Ex Novo (a nonprofit brewery) and Ecliptic. Ecliptic was perhaps one of the most heralded brewery openings in some time.  No surprise since the owner is Oregon brewing legend John Harris.

Down in Southeast Portland 13 Virtues moved into the brewing space at Philadelphia’s  We also welcome Baerlic Brewing and Montavilla Brew Works.

I have lost count of how many individual breweries this makes for Portland.  Needless to say it is a lot.  There are a lof of great breweries in Portland and many are adding great food too.  So use the map and start exploring.  Cheers.

View Portland Breweries in a larger map

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Portland Day Hike: Latourell Falls Columbia River Gorge

Latourell Falls Lower Falls Columbia River Gorge

The Columbia River Gorge, 30 minutes east of Portland, is filled with lots of great hiking. You could easily spend a couple of days hiking all the different trails.  I love the Columbia River Gorge and having it in Portland’s backyard is one of the many reasons to love this city.  A really great hike, and the closest of the Columbia River Gorge waterfalls to Portland, is Latourell Falls.  Latourell Falls is a easy to moderate hike just past Vista House on the Historic Columbia River Highway.

To get to Latourell Falls, head east on I-84 out of Portland.  Take exit 22 (Corbet) and drive up to the Historic Columbia River Highway and turn left.  If you have the time the Portland Women’s Forum and Vista House are on the way and worth stopping at.  If you are crunched for time, keep driving.  Latourell Falls is on the right side of the highway past the Vista House.  The parking lot is marked Latourell Falls.  If you are going to hike the falls I suggest heading out early because the parking lot can fill up fast.  If you get to Latourell Falls by 9:30 you should be able to find plenty of parking.  If you get there too late you will need to park on the shoulder of the highway.

The hike to view both Lower Latourell Falls and Upper Latourell Falls is a little over 2 miles. The hike is easy/moderate in difficulty. The beginning to the hike is a bit steep but after that it levels off.  if you are not interested in the hike but just want to view the falls you can get a pretty good view from a trail just below the parking lot.

Latourell Falls Lower Falls Trail Columbia River Gorge

However, I think the hike is well worth it.  It is good exercise and Upper Latourell Falls is a pretty waterfall that is not overly crowded thanks to the uphill hike to get there.

Latourell Falls Upper Falls Columbia River Gorge

Another reason why I think the Upper Latourell Falls hike is worth it is for the view.  After you walk past the falls there is a split in the trail.  One goes up (the way back) and one goes down.  The downhill trail will take you to a lookout with a great view of the Columbia River Gorge below.

View from Latourell Upper Falls Trail Columbia River Gorge

 

If you are looking for a day hike from Portland and don’t have all day to spend in the Columbia River Gorge, then Latourell Falls may be the hike for you.

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How to Find Cheap Airfare to Portland

With airline consolidation, and what few airlines are left flying routes less often, planes are full and airfare is sky high.  It is getting harder and harder to find good deals but they are out there and can still be found.  You just have to know where to look.  Today, I thought I would highlight some of my favorite tips.

Email Alerts and Twitter

1. Twitter

I love Twitter, it is a great source of information.  There are a couple of twitter accounts that tweet out deals on airfare and they are worth following.  Here is who you should follow.

Me (of course):  I will tweet Portland / PDX specific airfare deals.

The Flight Deal:  The flight deal is a blog that tweets airfare deals.  This is a great account to follow for anyone interested in travel and looking for great deals on airfare.

Airfarewatchdog:  Same idea as the Flight Deal.  Airfarewatchdog will tweet out great airfare deals.

2. Email Alerts

One of my favorite airfare notification services services is www.airfarewatchdog.com‘s email notifications.  You can sign up with airfarewatchdog to email you about any airfare deals to a specific city, from a specific city, or between city pairs.

Kayak can also be set up to email you when the price drops on specific routes that you are interested in.

Another website that I like is Yapta.  Yapta can be set up to follow a specific airline route and email you when the airfare drops.  Yapta can also be handy after you purchase airfare.  You may or may not know that some airlines have a guarantee policy and will refund you money if the airfare drops.  Yapta, is a great tool to keep track of this and get some money back after you have purchased airfare.

Searching for Airfare

My favorite search engine is ITA.  ITA is the software that many online travel agencies use to generate their search results.  Online travel agencies will sometimes filter their results so I like to use ITA directly and cut out the middle man.  The downside is you cannot book directly with ITA, you will need to go to the airline website to book.  It is a very powerful search engine that allows you to do a lot (which is another post entirely).

Google Flights, is another fun tool.  If you are flexible I like using their map function.  The map will show you airfare between city pairs on a map.  Pretty cool if you are flexible and just want to fly somewhere with a great deal.

PDX Airfare Deals

Tricks

Throwaway ticketing can be a nifty way to save money on airfare and worth checking out, if it is within your comfort level.  Read this article to learn about throwaway ticketing.

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What Are The Best Hotels In Portland?

Wondering what hotel to stay at in Portland?  The best hotel depends on your needs.  Are you on a business trip and need to be downtown? Do you prefer luxury properties? Do you need to be by the airport? Or are you looking for good family options?  Portland does not have huge hotel inventory but there is enough variety to meet most needs.  Plus in this list, I may cheat a little bit and add in a B&B or two.

Best Budget Hotels

When it comes to budget options you are going to trade price for something, be it convenience, a private bathroom, or no amenities.  When I think budget I think clean bed. Give me that, I’m happy.  For budget lodgings, I’m a big fan of avoiding hotels and if I have to do a hotel I’m usually going to Priceline it.

Priceline your hotel

Everett Street Guesthouse

Portland International Guesthouse

Crystal Hotel

Best Family Hotels

When I think family friendly hotel I usually think free breakfast, a pool, some sort of extra entertainment space.  Bonus points if the room has a kitchen and place for mom and dad to hide if kids are still young enough to be napping (like mine).

Residence Inn Pearl

Embassy Suites Downtown

Staybridge Suites Portland Airport

Embassy Suites Portland Airport

Residence Inn Portland Airport

Best Luxury Hotels

Portland only has one 5 star hotel and it is one of the best hotels in Portland.  So if you define luxury as a 5 star hotel then The Nines is it.  However, here are some other 4 star options as well.

The Nines

Hotel  Monaco

Riverplace

The Heathman

Best Non-Downtown Hotels

Most of Portland’s better hotels are downtown.  Which is unfortunate, I think the best of Portland is outside of downtown.  Staying in a residential neighborhood is a great way to get a feel for living in Portland.

Inn at Northrup Station

Kennedy School

Caravan – Tiny House Hotel

The Portland Mayor’s Mansion

Silver Cloud Inn

Best Downtown Hotels

Aside from the luxury hotels mentioned above these are going to be the hotels that are within most peoples price ranges and are good options for business travelers.  The hotels downtown are by no means cheap, most will run around $200+ per night.

Hotel Modera

The Paramount

Courtyard Downtown

Hotel DeLuxe

Best Airport Hotels

If you are looking for good budget options there are some very good hotels out by the airport.  If you are staying at a hotel by PDX I recommend renting a car.  It will make life easier and the MAX at night to PDX is a bit sketchy.  I especially like the hotels by Cascade Station which are within walking distance to stores and restaurants.

Hyatt Place

aloft

Residence Inn Cascade Station

Staybridge Suites Portland Airport

What are your favorite Portland hotels?

 

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A Mostly Pictures Trip Report: Part II Brussels and Paris

Part I: Bruges

After spending two days in Bruges it was time to head to Brussels for a day.  We arrived in Brussels around lunch time, dropped our bags off at the hotel, had a quick bite (while walking to Grand Place), and started exploring the city.

The first stop on any tour of Brussels, must begin at the Grand Place.  One of Europe’s iconic public squares.

Grand Place

Grand Place City Hall

After hanging out in the Grand Place, people watching and having a beer, it was on to the Manneken Pis.

Manneken Pis

This little guy is tucked away by some shops and restaurants a few blocks from the Grand Place.  He was dressed up as a Red Devil because the Belgium national team was playing in the World Cup.

Brussels is split between upper town and lower town.  The upper town is about 200 feet higher in elevation and as you can imagine that’s where the aristocrats settled in back in the day.  Upper Town is home to the Royal Palace, Palace of Justice, Place Royale, and a handful of museums.

The Royal Palace used to be home to the king and queen, but is now mostly an office building for the royal family.

Royal Palace

The Place Royale is a square near the Royal Palace.  The dude on the hose in the middle of the square is Godfrey de Bouillon, who led the first crusade.

DSC_0494

The statue of Godfrey is facing this view.  A park and the spire of City Hall off in the distance.

DSC_0489

We continued walking around upper town and stumbled into a farmer’s market, with a guy selling something that I have always wanted to try.  Jamon.

Jamon

By way of a little background.  Spain is on my to do list.  Aside from spending time in the Madrid airport I have not been to Spain.  I also love to eat pork. Jamon is cured pig’s leg from Spain.  It looked amazing and after getting a taste from the vendor I had to buy a few slices.

Slice of Jamon

Being the cheapskate that I am, I was hesitant but I had to get it.  Six slices put me back 18 euro ($25).   We got some cheese to go with it and it made a nice picnic lunch.  I don’t even know how to describe the taste, it was almost buttery in flavor.  It was fantastic. Spain just went higher on my to do list.

After dinner that night, mussels of course, we went to King Baudoin Stadium to watch Belgium play South Korea in the World Cup.  The crowd was lively and fun to watch.

World Cup Viewing Brussels

The next day we were off to Paris for 4 days.  I can’t believe how much sight seeing we jammed into 4 days.  A piece of advice for anyone visiting Paris.  Get the museum pass.  It covers almost every major sight and lets you skip the ticket buying lines.  Very handy for places like the Louvre and Versailles.

One our first day we hit up Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle Church, Paris Archaeological Crypt, and the Louvre.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame Side View

I love this side view.  Notre Dame’s architecture is stunning.  A nearby church with less stunning exterior architecture is Sainte Chapelle, but inside is a chapel filled with stain glass.

Stain Glass Sainte Chapelle

After touring Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle and other sites on Ile de la Cite it was off to the Louvre.  I heard that the museum is less crowded in the evenings so we went to the museum around 5:00.  There was not much of a line to get it but it was still crowded.  I can’t imagine what the place is like during peak hours.

Louvre

Venus de Milo Greek Original

I really like Greek and Roman art.  This is a greek original Venus de Milo, it’s only 2000 years old.

Michelangelo Dying Slave

Michelangelo’s Dying Slave

Michelangelo Rebellious Slave

Michelangelo’s Rebellious Slave

We of course, also saw the Mona Lisa.  Let me say this about the Mona Lisa.  While it is a great piece of art, the crowds are ridiculous.  I think most are there just to say they’ve seen it, take a picture and move on.  I spent a good amount of time just sitting back and watching the crowd.

Mona Lisa Crowd

Our second day was spent out at Versailles.  Versailles was built by King Louis XIV who fancied himself as a new age Roman Emperor.

Versailles King Louis IV Versailles Hall of Mirrors Versailles Crowd Versailles Garden

Words cannot really describe how grandiose the palace and its grounds are.  Seeing Versailles first hand certainly puts the French Revolution in perspective.

The next day we visited the Arc de Triomphe, Orsay Museum, and the Rodin Museum.

View Arc de Triomphe

View from Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

Musee D'Orsay

The Orsay museum is a converted train station, that I think is a really great museum.  It shows the transition from classical art of the late 18th century to realism and impressionism.  Sorry I don’t have pictures of the art, picture taking was not allowed.

Next stop was the Rodin Museum, perhaps the greatest sculptor since Michelangelo.

Rodin Thinker Rodin

Once we were finished touring the museums we had dinner and then walked back to our hotel.  Walking made us a little hungry so we stopped at a crepe stand for a sugar and butter crepe.

Crepe Stand

It was delicious.

On our last full day we climbed the Eiffel Tower, toured Napoleon’s Tomb, and souvenir shopped.

Eiffel Tower Eiffel Tower View

Napoleon's Tomb

At 7 days and 8 nights, this was a very short trip.  I would have preferred doing this over 10 or 12 days, but you make due with what you got.  We crammed in a lot of sightseeing, ate some wonderful food, and had a great time doing it.  I look forward to returning.

Now back to our regularly scheduled blogging.  Next week I will actually write something about Portland.

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Oregon Brewers Festival Starts Wednesday

Here in Portland, we love our craft beer.  With 40+ individual breweries and counting Portland is definitely a beer destination.  Throughout the year there are a variety of beer festivals.  The grandaddy of them all is the Oregon Brewers Festival, which starts on Wednesday.  The festival has come a long way since it started in 1988 when there were just 22 breweries represented.  This year there will be 85 different breweries from across the world sharing their beer with us.

If you have never been to this event, I highly encourage you given it a try.  While it can get a little busy, weekday afternoons are usually mellow enough.  The largest crowds will be Friday night and on Saturday and Sunday.

Admission to the brewers festival is free.  However, if you want to taste the beer you need to buy a tasting mug and wooden tokens.  The mug is $7 and tasting tokens are $1.   A taste will cost you one token and a full mug will cost you four.  The exception is the speciality tent which only serves tastes for two tokens.  There are food vendors, music, and best of all children are welcome.  It is a great event and a Portland must.

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