Monday, July 15, 2013

Bedecked: Watching the River Flow

"Don't push the river, let it flow."

There's nothing better on a summer afternoon than kicking back with a tall, cold drink in your hand. Even better, kicking back with a tall cold drink and a killer view of the Columbia River flowing by. Last week I got a chance to visit two of Portland's best river-viewing platforms, and they couldn't have been more different.

Two happy hour fish tacos.

Someone described The Deck "like taking a vacation to Mexico without leaving the city." Imagine a big floating dock set with umbrella-ed tables and a bar at one end, lots of Mexican beer signs and patrons having a great time and you've pretty much got the ambience. It's like dropping in on a dock party, since The Deck is located smack in the middle of a large marina, with boats big and small all around and great water-level views of the working river.

Fancy it's not—a roll of paper towels substitutes for napkins—but there's always a breeze, welcome on hot summer days, and there's a shaded canopy section for the UV sensitive. They've got several craft beers on tap, they serve a very fine margarita and their limited cocktail menu is nothing to sneer at. The food is a lot better than you'd expect, too, with delicious fish tacos, a black-and-blue Ahi tuna burger that is seared to perfection, housemade potato chips and an excellent, value-driven happy hour menu that lasts all day. When I ordered tacos off the regular menu, my server said I could get two happy hour tacos for less than the same ones on the regular menu ($11 vs. $11.75). Gotta love service like that!

Details: The Deck, 2915 NE Marine Dr. in McCuddy's Marina at 33rd and Marine Drive. Website says "you can come by boat, jet ski, kayak, car, bike or motorcycle. Parking is available in McCuddy's Marina. 503-283-6444.

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A mere half-mile or so upriver from The Deck you'll find Salty's on the Columbia, another stellar place to hang out and watch the river course by on its journey to the Pacific. But it feels like it's a million miles away in just about every other way.

This place is seriously old school…two stories of open windows frame the view, and the wraparound decks—bar above, restaurant below—soar above the river. There are no waves to rock you on this land-based bastion and no breeze will ruffle your hair thanks to the tall glass windbreaks protecting you and your tableware from any disturbance.

The cocktails are classics, too, deftly handled and well-executed, but the food, well, the food is what you'd expect from a place that caters to an older, less adventurous crowd. You'll find no fresh-from-the-farmers' market surprises or molecular gastronomic creations on this "waterfront seafood grill" menu. The fish is handled respectfully, though their signature coconut prawns appetizer, breaded, deep-fried, and dipped in grated coconut, can be light and delectable one trip and stale and cardboardy the next. Salads are good if you stick with the classics—my shrimp and crab Louis was a decent version even if the crab was somewhat hard to find.

But older relatives, more conservative business types and out-of-towners will love this place and talk for years about the time you took them there. And, seriously, there really is no faulting the awesome views.

Details: Salty's on the Columbia, 3839 N.E. Marine Dr. 503-288-4444.

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