From November 11, 2009:
November through April is what I lovingly refer to in my job as “travel season.” The season typically starts off with a series of regional meetings across the state then moves into sites visits, peaks in January with more regional meetings plus site visits, and then peters out after April with the last round of regional meetings. During this time, I criss-cross the state in both directions and reignite a deep loathing of I-5 between Salem and Portland, which marks the last painful leg of so many journeys. But on the first day of travel season, today, I have no loathing, only the joy of getting out of the Metro area and into the wide spaces and small towns that make up the Oregon of my youth. Let’s call it Real Oregon. As most of the folks outside Portland think of it.
The first stop back in Real Oregon is NoHo’s, which I should probably count as cheating as the small restaurant chain (there are three of them) started in Portland. However, NoHo’s opened its Medford location doors several years ago and has developed its own uniquely Medfordian vibe such that I feel justified in assigning it a place in Real Oregon.
My colleague, Matt, and I had originally intended to eat at the hotel’s sports bar, Characters. Characters features some potentially dynamic live acts on the weekends. However, after walking into Characters on this Wednesday evening, Matt and I were struck by the lack of characters in the bar, the strangeness of only having one of the three giant screen televisions on (and that it was tuned to Dancing with the Stars, which was, well, surprising in a sports bar), the excess of chairs and tables for the five people now occupying the space and the lack of any staff in the barren landscape. Although, to be fair to the staff, we did not wait long to see if they would appear. Before the desolation of the place could permeate our souls we made a bee line out the door.
Hungry, after nearly six hours on the road, we started circling Medford. There were the many chain and wannabe chain options at the various plazas, centers and malls that line Biddle Road, none of which appealed to either of us. We started back toward Medford’s downtown in search of a fish restaurant I had gone to last fall. The search was aborted when I saw the signs for NoHo’s. The promise of giant plates of hot Hawaiian food was too good to pass up.
Back to the aforementioned Medfordian vibe of this NoHo’s. I have picked up take-out at several restaurants around Medford now and have learned to recognize the uncomfortable foyer of those restaurants as the awkward take-out space. These foyers are somewhat akin to an industrial mud room: no decorations, just carpet and unassuming bench shoved in a corner. In addition to the liminal take-out space, the rooms of the restaurant are a little too open, a little too bright and the decor a little too pastel.
After a short while standing awkwardly in the take-out room, my colleague and I were seated on chairs painted with smiling suns. As we perused our menus, I too started to smile. The food sounded like everything I had hoped and dreamed of: spicy korean pork, char-grilled teriyaki beef, pupu platters, ribs of all sorts.
My primary recollection of NoHo’s in Portland was that the portions were enormous. I remembered oval platters with enough food to feed a family of four for a day set in front of each diner at the cozy Clinton Street location. Medford did not disappoint in the epic portions arena. Even Matt, who is nearly twice as tall as me, couldn’t finish his spicy Korean pork. I made an impressive showing with the teriyaki beef, but still had to leave some deliciousness behind.
Leaving food on the plate in no way means it was lacking in any respect. The grilled meats are tender. The spices meld into pure joy. The whole thing make my belly feel complete. On the whole, I was deeply satisfied with my first dinner of travel season. It’s going to be a good year.