Foodie Duty - Critic Reviews


  • State: Oregon
  • City: Portland

Perhaps the most seductive restaurant experiences, begins in Oregon. The tasting journey begins in the bustling town of Portland, where we can find ourselves in a small, indecorous dining room, complete with a chalkboard wall, listing the night’s fare.
Two large community tables are flanked by uncomfortable chairs; artful graffiti is splayed across the restrooms.

Attire: Semi-Casual
Special Features: Date-night, vibrant
Reservations: Essential

★★★★  $$$$$(over $40)   ♪♪♪♪(noise level)

Music plays below the vibrant chatter of the full room; candle lighting is low but not dark. From here, you can watch magic emerge from a kitchen whose close proximity to those two tables draws diners into the experience—even thermodynamically: on cold days, the heat from the equipment is great; on hot days, it’s an exercise in tolerance.

We count ourselves among those under Beast’s spell, in part because it represents such a magnificent rejection of the mistaken notion that the customer is always right. Would this fly at a surgeon’s office? An auto garage? Then why at a restaurant? Here, you get only what’s being served that night for each course—no substitutions.

Meals generally begin here with a small cup of soup, usually terrific. Cream of asparagus has been an anthem to spring—lush, smooth, and brimming with flavor from herbed crème fraîche and trout roe. Less successful was a carrot soup with Washington mussels and saffron cream, which wound up an overpowering melée of flavors.

The charcuterie rotates frequently but has always been impressive, highlighted, perhaps, by a freshly chopped steak tartare with raw quail egg. Foie gras bon-bons come topped with a tiny trembling square of Sauternes gelée.

Comforting mains that center around slow-cooked meats are best, like a feather-light pot pie with tender braised short rib, wild onion, and earthy morels accompanied by glazed turnips and sautéed turnip greens. Rare are the less successful ventures, like miniscule baby lamb chops that required a surgical extraction of meat off the bone, an experience that went from zen-like to unworthy hassle fast.

Subtly complex salads finish you off, and cheeses from the renowned Steve’s come with interesting accoutrements like cracked black pepper shortbread, Mars-Venus grapes, and wonderful Champagne-poached apricots. You’re strongly encouraged to order the wine pairings, which are well chosen but pricey. We prefer to order by the bottle from a short but very thoughtful list of wines, many of them French.

The costs of dining properly—leaving it up to the kitchen, small portions, unfussy and capable service, and the convivial company of strangers—are high, but we’re more bothered that it isn’t the norm. This is what’s happening-now. Come and see, America, what the modern restaurant experience should be.

Alberta Arts District
5425 NE 30th Ave.
Portland, OR
(503) 841-6968


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