The Heathman Hotel, Portland, Oregon

| By Alejandro Benes | From Chuck Norris, Jul/Aug 98

If El Niño does to you what the 1996 floods did to many residents of Portland, Oregon, you would do well to find shelter at The Heathman Hotel. Built in 1927, the Heathman is extremely comfortable. A junior suite with a king-size bed provides the spacious sanctuary you might need at a moment's notice in a city where half the average annual rainfall of 33.6 inches seems to come at times in a single day. The weather could wipe out a weekend, but the Heathman's management has made contingency plans by having more than 400 free movies of all kinds available for viewing in your room.

The hotel's general manager, Pierre Zreik, explains that guests like staying there because of the attention and convenience: almost everything in downtown Portland is within walking distance. "First of all, [it's] the location," Zreik says, "but we are very well known for service and staffing. One thing we track are the comment cards, and most of the comments we get are that people come back because of the staffing."

Zreik has made the Heathman even more appealing by persuading master chef Philippe Boulot to move to Portland from New York's Mark Hotel, making sure the Heathman's restaurant remains one of the best in the city. Boulot uses ingredients from the Northwest and prepares them with French flair. Each menu offers salmon, but breakfast could feature lemon pancakes with fresh berry compote, or a corned beef hash with poached eggs and horseradish creme fraiche. Lunch offers grilled salmon with shrimp whipped potatoes, leek compote and a Pinot Noir demiglace. Though you could order smoked salmon for dinner, you should start with one of the best crab cakes on the planet. It's made with panko, a Japanese rice crumb, rather than bread crumbs, is lightly curried and sauced with a WillaKenzie ver jus (unfermented grape musk) beurre fondue. Hope that the vegetable gnocchette appears as a special. Other entrées include the gigot of lamb de Sept Heures with a potato gnocci persillade, and the seared Alaskan halibut with fresh green lentils, cipollini onion, kalamata olive and beurre fondue. The wine list offers plenty of Oregon Pinot Noirs; the 1992 unfiltered Panther Creek is still available and well worth trying.

After a few of Boulot's meals you might want to use the Heathman's personal trainer service. If you are looking for something less strenuous, go to the tea room where live music will soothe you, or head to the cigar lounge where you can enjoy what Ron Wolf, the Heathman's sommelier and cigar man, says is one of Portland's favorite cigars: "La Gloria Cubana really, hands down, a real popular brand." A Torpedo No. 1 goes for a "reasonable" $16, given Oregon's 65 percent tax on tobacco products. Up until 1994 or so, cigar smoking was allowed in the dining room, but there were complaints, so management made the back part of the bar cigar-friendly. In the first six months, cigar revenues increased by $10,000. The room is scheduled to be expanded in the fall.--Alejandro Benes

Alejandro Benes is a writer and business executive in Washington, D.C.

The Heathman Hotel
1009 SW Broadway at Salmon
Phone (503) 241-4100 or (800) 551-0011
Rooms from $150 to $675, for the two-bedroom Grand Suite.