Staycation: The Kuza Garden Cabin

These days, opportunities to get up close and personal with Portland’s finest tastemakers abound–you can get their insider culinary tips at private supper clubs, you can discuss soil themes on their rooftop gardens, you can cruise the Mediterranean with them, you can river raft Hells Canyon together, and now, you can even sleep in their backyard. No, really.

Tucked deep in the maple and wisteria-shaded recesses of the lush quarter-acre Japanese garden that elevates Northeast Portland’s ever-stylish Yakuza Lounge to part urbane eatery-part Zen retreat, sits the Kuza Garden Cabin, a fashionably rustic vine-draped retreat that permits one to quite literally live in the backyard of one of Portland’s favorite restaurants. I was invited to experience a little staycation by Yakuza/Kuza Cabin owner/developer/all-around lovely lady Dayna McErlean, so I packed an overnight bag (okay, three, I’ve never been all that adept at packing light), drove the three miles to Northeast Portland, and entered a totally different world for 24 hours.

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A remodeled 1922 carrriage house, the low-slung 350-square foot cabin is unassuming at first glance, its sedate grey facade nearly concealed beneath the ivy that snakes up and over the kitchen window and gauzy curtain-shrouded bright red front door (which is of course, excellent feng shui).

Inside, however, is another world–inspired by the clean aesthetics of a Japanese mountain cabin, McErlean and co-designer Tim Parsons crafted an intimate sanctuary lined with linseed oil-rubbed wood planks and sporting a pared-down style that’s too warm to be minimalist, but so well-conceptualized and uncluttered that you sort of want to start Googling professional organizers.

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A Tivoli table radio played soft music, a single perfect daffodil bobbed in a spotless crystal vase, Mada toiletries lined the window ledge of the white subway-tiled sunken shower, and the afternoon sun streamed through the opaque glass panes of the vintage garage doors on the west-facing wall.

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A chilled bottle of Prosecco winked from the corner of the long wooden bar that runs the length of the kitchen, perfect timing, considering that the sun was gracing Portland with its unfamiliar presence, happy hour was a ways off, and I had my own private Japanese garden just beyond the door.

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It was tempting never to leave, after all, the cabin offers Yakuza room service and in-room massages upon request, but after soaking up a bit of Vitamin D, a stroll around the neighborhood seemed prudent. Walking down the path that separates Yakuza’s patio from well-known local supper club Beast‘s back stoop, I could see both kitchen staffs inside prepping for the hungry Last Thursday throngs, but all was still quiet in the four corners of Fox Chase, the charming four-block micro-neighborhood that cradles a dozen or so of Portland’s best restaurants and most unique boutiques at the corner of NE Killingsworth and 30th.

Speaking of which, there was just enough time for some shopping before happy hour–I stopped into newly-relocated Robots Love Cupcakes for Strawberry Cardamom, Green Tea Cherry Blossom and Red Velvet beauties, browsed racks of vintage leather purses and ornate cowboy boots and burrowed through the irresistible crate of $5 handbags at Half Pint, and goggled immaturely at the Happy Heinie training pants, Got Breast Milk tshirts and Swedish Snotsuckers (not making that up) at Milagros.

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I had a relaxed poke around the treasure trove that is Red Fox Vintage, where I secured an exceptionally well-illustrated piece of literature entitled “A Really Super Book About Squirrels,” took a slow, reverent lap around the awe-inspiring exhibition of handmade mosaics at Hail Mary, then crossed the street to gorgeous new Troolie, where the cards are so well chosen that even though nobody I know has a birthday until sometime around Labor Day, I started buying cards for people’s half-birthdays because I couldn’t resist them.

Across the street, Cocotte was just opening for the evening as I stepped up to try happy hour–and a few minutes later I was sitting at a bistro table beneath their living wall garden, sipping a Lillet on the rocks with a lemon twist and delving into the gratin–a ridiculously rich golden breadcrumb-crusted concoction of heavy cream, leeks, Manchego, fresh herbs and mustard seed enveloping meaty morsels of smoked sturgeon.

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Since there’s no dinner like a progressive dinner, I walked a few feet back up the street and met a friend at Yakuza, where we sipped earthy-sweet Beet Martinis and Ginger Fizzes, and pretty much swooned over the melt-in-your-mouth blood orange-oil drizzled salmon tataki with smoked cherry salt and Ikura caviar, a pair of fat, creamy seared scallops with sunchoke, morels and buttered ponzu, and silky chunks of black cod swimming in mirin and white miso.

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By now, the Last Thursday crowd was growing dense around the doorway and the dessert sirens were calling, so we relinquished our table, walked a half block and crossed Killingsworth, contemplated a shot of good tequila and pozole at festive Autentica but decided to raincheck, and came up alongside perennially darling DOC, where equally darling chefs Jobie Bailey and Paul Losch were toiling merrily behind the stove of their Lilliputian kitchen, and wine wizard Austin Bridges was doing his thing, you know, that thing where he effortlessly plays matchmaker with you and your wine soul mates.

We shared the farmhouse cheese plate, the chocolate panna cotta with Black Mission figs, an elegant lemon tart with pale pink rhubarb sorbet, and the profiteroles with ricotta, peach and balsamic. It is slightly heartbreaking that due to the waning daylight and romantic lighting, all of my dessert pictures are but unsightly blurs. Sorry. You’ll just have to retrace my steps and see them yourselves.

After dessert, it was another convenient half block walk “home,” where we poured a glass of Prosecco and argued about who looked fatter in our swimsuits. Yes, swimsuits. Doesn’t everyone end a three-restaurant evening by shoehorning their bulging midsection into a swimsuit? Well, that’s how we roll. And we did indeed roll the 10 steps from the cabin door to Yakuza’s serene stone soaking tub, which lies surrounded by comely shrubbery in the back of the garden, offering views of the moonlit garden, Yakuza’s back patio, and the stars. There’s also a fire pit, if you’re more Yin than Yang.

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The next morning, I had every intention of partaking in the 7:30am yoga class at nearby The People’s Yoga, but somehow we instead ended up watching Bridesmaids on the flat screen television suspended over the supremely comfortable bed, enjoying a leisurely cappucino and some excellent people-watching at neighborhood roaster Extracto coffee, and stuffing our faces with blueberry pancakes, a roasted vegetable scramble, and a bacon smile in a comfy booth at Cup & Saucer Cafe.

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And then it was checkout time, so we slowly and mournfully gathered up our wet swimsuits, wiped the cupcake crumbs and Prosecco drips off the kitchen counter, and headed the three miles back to our real Portland life. The one that doesn’t involve swanky hair products and a midnight soaking tub and an enchanting Japanese garden cabin that lies in the back yard of some of Portland’s best restaurants and a half block from everything else you could ever need in life–peach profiteroles, wine soul mates, $5 purses, pineapple rosaries, bawdy birthday cards, optional yoga glasses, really big blueberry pancakes, Swedish snotsuckers and all.

Note to readers: Although it hasn’t been on the short-term rental market for long, the Kuza Cabin has already hosted an assortment of savvy staycationers, out-of-town brand-new grandparents who don’t want to get in the way of/need refuge from their frazzled childrens’ attempts to manage a newborn, and novelists seeking a unique lodging experience in a fully-stocked Portland micro-neighborhood. You too could staycation here, or, share its particulars with a B&B-seeking friend who wants a one-of-a-kind Portland experience–the Kuza Cabin makes appearances on both VRBO.com and AirB&B.com.