Review: Woodsman Tavern. Portland, OR.

The Woodsman Tavern
4537 SE Division St
Portland, OR 97206

Man, I ate here a while ago. I took on a lot of eating during my last week in Portland and subsequently followed it up with not-a-lot of writing. As a blogger with a full time job, some times the post takes a while to get to.

Woodsman Tavern is Duane Sorenson’s (of Stumptown Coffee fame) first foray into restaurants. I’m a huge fan of Stumptown (I still maintain it’s the best coffee roaster in the US) and was excited to see if Sorenson could create a restaurant with the same kind of magic.

The menu at Woodsman Tavern is seafood-intensive, and I was willing to go along with it. Starting off the meal was kumamoto oysters and chilled dungeoness crab. Both were awesome. Some of the best (maybe the best) raw seafood I’ve ever had. I still have dreams about those oysters.

For the main course, I ordered the prosciutto wrapped halibut w/ green beans & tomato butter sauce. This is the best seafood dish I’ve eaten in 2012. It was awesome. Seriously, look at the photo. Amazing. And it tasted as good as it looks. The halibut was cooked spot on and seasoned perfectly. The proscuitto had a nice char and contributed what almost felt like a sear on the outside of the fish. The tomato butter sauce was the perfect compliment. I could not get enough of the stuff and continually ran the green beans though it because….. well it tasted so damn good.

I didn’t get dessert this night, though I wish I would have. The rest of the meal was so good that I can’t imagine that it would have been a drop off.

The last couple of months I’ve talked a lot about the bon appettit top 50 new restaurants… mainly because I have been obsessed with eating as many of them as I can. So far Woodsman Tavern is the top of the ones I’ve experienced, and it’s not even close. Most of the negative reviews I’ve seen of Woodsman revolve around poor service. While the service I had there wasn’t great, the food more than made up for it.

RATING: *****

The Woodsman Tavern on Urbanspoon

Review: Little Big Burger. Portland, OR.

Little Big Burger
3810 SE Division St
Portland, OR 97202

Sometimes when I’m traveling, after a long day at the office, I just want to go somewhere simple and make a burger my biatch. A burger paired with some fries is the ultimate comfort food to me. But comfort food doesn’t have to be low brow.

When I tell people about Little Big Burger, my usual description is “It’s Portland’s Shake Shack.” While that sounds like a bit of an indictment of LBB’s originality, I actually mean it as a compliment.

Their emphasis on local & organic (especially taking into consideration that it’s a fast casual restaurant) is awesome.

The menu, as seen on the outside of the building, is simple. It’s pretty much: Do you want cheese on your burger (who says no to that)? What kind (they offer 4 different local cheeses: chevre, swiss, cheddar, bleu)? Do you want fries?

For dessert they offer floats made with tillamook vanilla ice cream. No frills. All wonderful.

The burger I order is a cheeseburger (cheddar) all the way with truffle fries (that’s right the default preparation for french fries is tossed in trufle oil, hell yea). The only downfall to the burger is, welp, it’s kinda little. I went back and ordered another in order to fill up.

The fries are really good, of course I could drink truffle oil.

Overall, Little Big Burger is a really good burger, responsibly sourced and prepared wonderfully.

RATING: ***

Little Big Burger on Urbanspoon

Review: St. Jack. Portland, OR.

St. Jack
2039 SE Clinton St
Portland, OR 97202

I love french food. I know it’s cliche, but that doesn’t matter to me. I credit the french bistros in Manhattan with a large chunk  of my obsession with food. I loved food before, but those places really opened my eyes with regards to food.

St. Jack in Portland is a great example of a well done traditional french bistro. It takes me back a few years to a place where amazing food was completely new to me.

Rolling up on a Tuesday after work, I ended up sitting outside (for picture-taking purposes, you’re welcome). The service was really great and the weather was even better.

Starting off, I had escargots with ham, mushrooms and gruyere croutons. They were nothing spectacular, but enjoyable none the less.

For the entree, I ordered the ubiquitous steak frites. Similar to the escargot, the dish was nothing amazing, but a solid play on a standard french dish. The steak was nicely cooked, though a bit under seasoned. The fries were okay, nothing to write home about.

For dessert I had baked to order madeleines. These were the best part of the meal. Hot and fresh out of the oven, they had a light lemon flavor which combined nicely with the thin layer of powdered sugar. If you go here, get these.

Overall, I’d say this place is the go to for traditional french bistro fare in Portland. If that is what you’re after and you’re in the area, this place is a can’t miss.

RATING: ***
Patisserie St. Jack on Urbanspoon

Review: Laurelhurst Market. Portland, OR.

Laurelhurst Market is the place in Portland that I’ve eaten at more than any other. It’s good and I love steak. It’s probably my favorite steak house I’ve eaten at in a long time. It isn’t fussy, quite casual actually. That doesn’t mean the meat isn’t superb local/grass fed cuts.

The place is a butcher during the day (super cool right?), offering sandwiches and the like. It’s got a very artisan feel. Very Portland.

The interior is nice and open. The decor is meat-centric. A high quality steak house like this is honestly refreshing compared to the larger-than-life types that are so prominent in my home town.

I always start off my meal with mussels/clams frites (whichever is on the menu at the time). You guys, these are awesome. The fries are seriously the best I’ve had in Portland and all the different preparations I’ve had are wonderful. These were prepared with dijon creme fraiche, scallions and preserved lemons. Another winner.

At laurelhurst, I’ve had the ribeye, the strip and multiple preparations of the the flank steak. The flank is the one I keep coming back to. I think it’s just my favorite cut of meat right now. This night they prepared it with fresno harissa, queso fresco and charred scallions. The harissa provided as nice amount of heat and the whole dish was simply prepared and wonderfully executed.

I’ve never ordered dessert here, so I thought I would for the purpose of the review. I ordered a chocolate banana cream pie with candied walnuts. They served a french press of stumptown coffee to accompany. It was a nice finish, but I do have an inherit problem with paying $8 for a slice of pie.

Overall, this place is the one I’ve eaten at more than any other in my travels (not including Chipotle). It’s a fantastic restaurant and if you’re in the area looking for a great steak there is no better choice.

RATING: *****

Laurelhurst Market on Urbanspoon
 

Review: Luce. Portland, OR.

Rolling up to Luce the week after Bon Appetit named it a top 10 restaurant in america last month, I was fully prepared to bombarded by a hipster apocalypse. To my surprise the crowd was surpisingly, even hilariously, geriatric (it was right at 5 afterall, who else eats that early?). The patrons were quite aware of the recent accolades garned by the restaurant. One older gentleman went so far as to read the BA the article to his wife in complete AD Club Sauce style. Hilarious.

The restaurant is really small and I arrived expecting a 3hr wait. It turned out to only be 45mins-1hr before I was sat, so that was nice. The meal however, took forever. About 3 hours in total. (That’s a 4 hour dinner experience folks, 4 HOURS! Ain’t Nobody got time for that)

The staff was super friendly, so I hate to say anything negative about the experience. But it’s not like they’re  hurting for praise these days. So let’s, as they say, keep it real.

The antipasti and charcuterie came out first. The charcuterie was absolutely nothing special. Let’s get that out the way. Out of the antipasti, the clams were really good. The potato salad was okay and the mozzarella with anchovies were not good.

The Salt Foccacia was good, but not as good as I expected it to be (I was really excited for this meal).

 For pasta, I got the spaghetti with hot peppers and clams. Since this recipe actually appears in the issue, I was expected a lot. Like a lot of the meal, it was just OK.

The hanger steak was definitely the best part of the meal in my opinion. This recipe appears in the magazine as well. The steak is cooked and served in a garlic rosemary olive oil. It was both simple and delicious.

I had a hazelnut chocolate cake for dessert, which I don’t have the photo of. It was good, definitely worth getting if you’re there.

Overall, I would say this is a good meal, but no way is it a top 10 new restaurant in america. Based on the comments of Andrew Knowlton I expected to be blown away by the quality of the ingredients and I just wasn’t. If you’re expecting to be wowed like I was, steer clear. If you want a simple, solid italian meal that takes 3-4hrs to get through, then give it a shot.

RATING: ***
Luce on Urbanspoon

Notes from the Road: The Farm Cafe. Portland, OR.

After the Bon Appetit top 10 New Restaurants in America was released last month, I rushed over to Luce to give it a try. Unfortunately, it was a Tuesday and Luce was closed. Disheveled and disappointed I staggered into The Farm Cafe for a self-pity filled dinner.

I didn’t take pics, though I should have. I ordered the Lamb dish that night and it turned out to be one of the best (possible the best) lamb dishes I’ve ever had. If you’re ever in the area, you should give this place a try.

Farm Cafe on Urbanspoon

Notes from the Road: Pok Pok. Portland, OR.

The meal I eat when I’m in Portland more than any other is at the iconic Asian restaurant Pok Pok. Their vietnamese hot wings are seriously great, I can’t get enough of them.

Another, less obvious, reason I eat at Pok Pok so much would be the fact that there is a take out window. Generally, even when I go on a Tuesday night (my preffered dining night), there is a wait between 45 minutes and an hour. I’m not huge on waiting that long to eat by myself. The only thing lonelier than eating by yourself is waiting an hour by yourself to eat by yourself.

I’d like to do a full review at some point, but if I don’t get a chance, let it be known to all that Pok Pok is legit and it gets this weary traveler’s seal of approval.

Pok Pok on Urbanspoon

Review: Toro Bravo. Portland, OR.

 

Toro Bravo
120 NE Russell St
Portland, OR 97212

Toro Bravo is a small tapas restaurant in Northeast Portland. It is the brainchild of Chef John Gorham (as well as the brunch darling Tasty n Sons). It is in a small building next to the Wonder Ballroom, a local music venue. The day I went, there was an indie electro-pop concert happening, so hipsters walking around were in no short supply.

The interior was a nice open set up. There are some individual tables and some communal ones. We got placed on the edge of one of the communal tables and since it was a tuesday night there was no wait.

First up I had a charcuterie board. All the charcuterie was made in house and was fantastic. The chorizo (top left) was amazing. It was topped with Sherry jelly, which was more interesting to me than enjoyable. The duck liver mousse terrine with morels was absolutely amazing as well. I may have found a new fungus love in morels.

Next up were the salt cod fritters with aioli. Yea, I took a bite before I took a picture. I love aioli! These were good. The salt cod was pulled apart before it was fried, making the resulting fritter much smoother than expected.

After that I ordered squid ink pasta with anchovy syrup, hazelnuts and egg yolk. The pasta is made fresh in house (of course) and is amazing. I was asked afterwards if the squid ink added anything to the pasta and I answered that I wasn’t sure, but the pasta was really good. I’m not sure my palate is sophisticated enough to pick up on the squid ink. I thought the hazelnuts were a bit unnecessary and ended up not eating most of them.

I was still hungry after the pasta, so I ordered one more plate. For those not familiar with the concept of Tapas, it’s basically a set up in which you order a bunch of small plates and make a meal out of it. This is a concept I can totally get behind.

I ordered the spicy merguez sausage on grilled flatbread with French fries and buttermilk cheese. The flatbread was amazingly good, if you go here, please get a flatbread dish. The sausage was insanely hot and while tasty, I had to labor to finish it. The fries were good, but nothing special.

For dessert I had the churros in chocolate. A group at our (communal) table got some and they looked good (as you can see from the photo), so I went for it (with a side of ice cream for good measure). Sadly, they were a bit of a disappointment. Not quite sure what was off about them (I think it was amount of nutmeg). The chocolate was good and so was the ice cream.

Overall, this is the kind of local, everything-made-in-house, from-local-producers-and-farmers, that you come to expect in Portland. This is a seriously great restaurant in the middle of a city full of them.

RATING: ****
Toro Bravo on Urbanspoon

Review: Riffle NW. Portland, OR.

Riffle NW
333 NW 13th Ave
Portland, OR 97209

“There’s not a lot of good seafood in Portland.” This is common rhetoric you get from Portland locals when talking about the food scene of their beloved town.

It took this Texan by surprise and no one had a good reason for it. After I suggested that maybe Portland wanted to differentiate itself from Seattle a bit and focus on something different, everyone replied “Maybe.” No one was quite sure.

All that being said, there is an obvious hole in the market. A seafood restaraunt for the locals. One that can hang with all the amazing places Portland has to offer. Enter Riffle NW.

Riffle sits in the building where another restaraunt used to be (50 plates). Having never been there, I wasn’t terribly sad that it was gone (a friend I met for dinner was). I on the other hand was quite excited as the reviews for this place have been outstanding.

The menu looked amazing. (Side Note: I’m a complete sucker for typography on menus and good typography in general. Riffle hits all of these out of the park. Attention to detail was phenomenal on their print and interiors).

After reading about their ice program (seems like a weird thing to say), I knew I had to order a cocktail. An old fashioned is generally my drink of choice. The ice cubes are carved down daily from a solid block of ice (with a chain saw I believe). They’re pretty amazing. And the old fashioned was quite good as well.

The first food I ordered was a quail egg and sea urchin shot. I had seen it on their menu online and knew that it was something unique that I wanted to give a shot (no pun intended). For some reason I didn’t expect the quail eqq to be raw as I’m not a big fan of raw eggs. But that in mind, the sea urchin was awesome and the quail egg didn’t take away from it too much. I would probably enjoy it more the next time, knowing what to expect.

Next I had some shrimp ceviche. It was quite tasty as these things go. Very clean tasting. Nice citrus and pepper flavors. Can’t go wrong.

The main course was octopus and potatoes in a chorizo cream sauce. It is seriously one of the best seafood dishes I’ve ever had.

Chorizo and octopus are one of my favorite combos. Olympic Provisions has a small plate of baby octopus and chorizo that I love as well.

I could have eaten 3 of these plates, and sorta wanted to. I say that as a bit of a knock on the portion size, but I realize that a huge portion would probably cost $100.

For Dessert, I had the whiskey chocolate cake. Honestly, it was the only down note of the meal. A bit bland and didn’t do much for me.

The coffee was great. It came out in a mini bodum french press from which the server poured the glass. The coffee itself is from Sterling Coffee Roasters, a local portland roaster. I’ll make it a point to stop by one of their shops and give them a review. This cup definitely earned it.

Overall, I’d say this place is definitely the spot if you’re looking for a great cross-section of an amazing bar, great seafood and terrific ambience. I can guarantee this will be one of the best seafood joints you will ever eat at. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt with the dessert.

RATING: ****
Riffle NW on Urbanspoon