Eatin’ in Portland

December 27, 2015 at 8:39 PM Leave a comment

Portland has a wonderful reputation as a premier “Food Town”. This small west coast city hosts multiple James Beard award winners and nationally known spots. On his second visit, Jeff tried a few more well regarded restaurants and came away still craving the place he tried during his last visit, Le Pigeon.

Perhaps the most enjoyable spot this trip was Grüner. It was also the place of which we were least familiar. Basically, this is a German restaurant without the German kitsch. The Maultaschen (“Swabian Ravioli”) was excellent. Pasta was filled with a mixture of pork, beef, spinach and placed in a pool of rich beef broth. The venison entrée was served two ways, roasted and built into a sausage. Both were excellent. Chocolate choux a la crème with quince ice cream was a wonderful dessert. Jeff’s dinner companion enjoyed his Grüner salad and trout equally as well. After dinner at Grüner, we started to think about how poorly German food has been represented in fine dining establishments. Most Teutonic cuisine has been relegated to lederhosen-clad, bier halls with oversized mugs and oompapa bands. (See Hofbräu Haus.) It is nice to experience a classy room, expressing the finest of an abused culinary culture.

Beast is initially an odd place, but a day after dining there, hindsight says it might not be that strange after all. With only one prix fix menu, 24 seats and two communal table seatings, previously experienced restaurant rules go out the window. Beast is quiet. The Chefs work with single-minded purpose, fully exposed to the diners, barely a word spoken. Because everyone is seated prior to service, there are no distractions. No host buzzes around the room. Other diners do not enter and exit. Aside from the waiter, no one asks if “everything is perfect” because, of course, everything is, perhaps, too perfect. All distractions have been removed. Your single-minded assignment is to concentrate on the food. With no tipping involved, you don’t even worry about the value of the wait staff. (One person.) Food, food and the accompanying wine are your primary concern. Because this is not normal, it is at first disconcerting, but after a while, one wonders why more places do not try the same tact.

Dinner started with French Onion Soup. At this point, French Onion Soup has become almost de rigueur. Scores of bowls have been served in countless restraunts and most are pedestrian at best. It was nice to finally sup a perfect version with the sweetness and tang intended centuries ago. The Charcuterie plate was a smorgasbord of excitement. Steak tartare, chicken liver mousse, foie gras, pork and sage sausage, duck prosciutto and short rib croquette each provided a jolt to the palette and a zing to the taste buds. After cleaning the plate, more was desired. The “entrée” featured a lovely lamp chop with mint sauce and potato puree. The post-entrée salad might have been the high-point with a magnificent mix of endive, pear, hazelnut, pomegranate and Roquefort. So good and so perfectly balanced. After total immersion in the salad, the cheese course arrived. Jeff has experienced numerous cheese plates over the years, but this may be the one he remembers for years to come. Each was a treat and this dish redefined in his mind the value of a cheese course. Dessert was a nice ginger intensive cake.

So why wasn’t Beast the quintessential Portland experience? Odd reasons prevail. At no time during the dining experience did Jeff feel comfortable. Dining alone, Jeff felt alone at the communal table, more so than if at a separate table. While many people surrounded him, none were centered around his experience, or with his experience. It was a lonely dining event exacerbated by the quietness of the room.

Pok Pok might be the antithesis of Beast. Meeting an old friend, Pok Pok meant a reawakening of old memories and lots of talk. The room was active, full of buzz and everyone engaged in the eating of something new and exciting. Pok Pok showcases the foods of Thailand, but not the Americanized Pad Thai you’ve had at countless spots almost everywhere. This is a complex menu with powerful flavors and an enlightened look at food found in another culture. It is also far spicier than most Thai food we (or you) have eaten. We tried the Chiang Mai sausage, boar collar meat and Brussel Sprouts. The waiter suggested that sticky rice is the correct accompaniment and that the traditional way to eat this food is to scoop the meat up with the rice. Frankly, it seemed like a very messy technique and Jeff gave up after a few scoops, turning back to a fork and knife. Fingers or forks, this was very good food. Just remember, if you go, order beer. Jeff has always felt beer works best with Thai food and with these layers of spice and heat, you’ll especially need it here!

Despite the good experiences this trip, Jeff still feels Le Pigeon was a more memorable spot. Perhaps a second visit there would have been a better choice, but which new spot would have been eliminated? That might have been a much more complex decision. 738 E Burnside Street Portland, OR 97214 503-546-8796 527 SW 12th Avenue Portland, OR 97205 503-241-7163 5425 NE 30th Avenue Portland, OR 97211 503-841-6968 3226 SE Division Street Portland, OR 503-232-1387

Entry filed under: Eatin' Out of Town. Tags: , , , , .

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