Meriwether's pantry board

A few of our favorite Meriwether’s pantry board choices.

It’s May!

It’s not Monday!

It only rained three times today!

Each of those is a minor victory, and therefore an excuse to celebrate. That, and we were lucky enough to have a gift card for Meriwethers tucked in a drawer, yearning to be used. So use it we did on a recent Tuesday night.

Meriwether’s is one of the first restaurants James and Zandra took us to before we moved to Portland, and since then it’s been the site of more than a couple of birthday celebrations. Something about this place feels like a special-occasion destination. The historic building once marked the entrance to the 1905 World’s Fair and retains an element of rusticity. Dark wood floors, huge stone fireplaces, log ceiling beams and grand windows add drama to the dining room’s elegant farmhouse feel. It’s the kind of place most people would feel comfortable bringing the parents or grandparents for a celebratory meal: well lit, workable noise level, attentive service.

But, really, it’s the food that keeps us coming back. Meriwether’s, like many Portland restaurants, is a farm-to-fork kind of place, but with a twist: It operates its own farm, Skyline Farm, in Northwest Portland, and the menu changes frequently based on the week’s harvest. On more than one occasion, we’ve threatened to make a meal of the pantry-board section and this one was no different. Choose one, three or five items (better go for five — choosing is difficult) and share the glorious small bites. We had the Oregonzola-stuffed dates; light and crispy fried sweetbreads with a smoky chipotle aioli; crab deviled eggs; cauliflower gratin; and anchovy avocado toast. All were delicious, but of the five, the anchovy avocado toast stood out: avocado spread over toasted bread with two fillets of anchovy layered on top. Salty, creamy, two bites of bliss.

Proscuitto and greens pizza

Pizza with prosciutto and greens.

Tempting as it is to order these delicious nibbles all night, we soldier on to the lower half of the menu. A selection of salads is next, followed by pasta and grains, all of which come in small or large sizes, conducive to mixing and matching, depending on your level of curiosity and hunger. Each of us ordered the farmhouse salad with fennel and shaved pecorino cheese: simple, lovely. For entrees, Zandra had a deliciously chewy papardelle with a meaty ragu — gorgeous. The night’s most-unexpected award went to J’s  halibut entree served over Asian stir-fried vegetables with a bit of spice. (Stir fry? At Meriwether’s? Sure, why not.)  James and I both selected from the bar menu. I had the bacon cheese burger with truffle salt fries. The burger was good, if not memorable. Leftover aioli from the sweetbreads made for tasty fry sauce. James ordered the pizza: a large, oblong flatbread mounded with arugula and prosciutto. With enough greens to satiate a hungry goat, it’s likely the least guilt-inducing pizza on earth, and a tasty one at that.

Chalk it up to being a Tuesday night, or that the service on this particular evening was scattered, leaving us sitting longer than we’d planned, but we skipped dessert. No matter, there will always be the next time we have a reason to celebrate.

Fries, calamari and oysters

Calamari, fries and oysters.

Saturday afternoon was cool, cloudy and dry — the perfect day for a long walk. J and I headed downtown, as we often do, and this week’s exploration took us to the northwest side of the city. After a good hour and a half of wandering, we headed back toward the river and to Dan & Louis Oyster Bar.

This was the second time the promise of oysters had lured us in. The first was in the middle of winter, when the oysters beckoned, but the real draw that soggy day was the prospect of stick-to-your-ribs clam chowder. Neither disappointed, and we knew we’d return.

Dan & Louis is an old-time storefront tucked away on Ankeny Street just west of the Saturday Market. A family-owned joint opened in 1907, the feel of the bar is what I imagine a fisherman’s hangout to be — nothing fancy, wood paneling, just the basics. The front bar area has a half-dozen or so wooden two-top tables and a bar backed by liquor of all sorts; a giant wooden ship’s steerer … wheel (what is it called? a helm, yes.); a lone TV in the corner is usually tuned to some game, race or sporting event. An old cistern from the early Portland days has been preserved near the door to the kitchen. Covered with a Plexiglass window and lit down below, it’s a stop on a local walking tour. Flocks of tourists march in, look down the hole, turn around and leave. Weird? A little. Amusing to watch? Yes.

But I’ve dwelt on the decor too much. The real star of this show is the oysters. We ordered the variety pack (my term, not theirs): six kinds, two of each, all plucked from the waters off Washington and Oregon. (Eat local, indeed.) A splash of lemon is my preferred accompaniment, but the plate also offers horseradish and cocktail sauce. Fresh, briny, slurp-a-licious. Rather than chowder, this time we went for the fried calamari. Well seasoned/herbed and fried to a perfectly crispy bite, these were among the best for my taste. Everything accompanied by piping-hot sourdough bread with a pillowy interior, crunchy exterior. I think we all know how we feel about that. A couple of glasses of crisp Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc to round it all out, and we were ready for our walk home.

One of many versions of a perfect Saturday afternoon.

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Pork belly and braised cabbage.

You might be thinking, “Really. Out to dinner two nights in a row?” Believe me, it’s not the norm. But after having moved to the neighborhood, J and I feel a responsibility to contribute to Alberta Street’s success. And if that means eating out two nights in a row, so be it. It had been a few months since we visited del Inti, our neighborhood Peruvian bistro, and we could not stand the guilt if, god forbid, it closed its doors.

Not that it needs our humble contribution. By the looks of the steady clientele, this spot is a local favorite. Del Inti’s welcoming patio with its piped-out Latin tunes and roaring fire pit mark the spot on Alberta and 23rd. Inside, the open space contains a bustling exposed kitchen, a lively dine-in bar, and a comfortably spaced dining area. Colorful artwork, globe lighting, cork flooring and a garage-type door that opens from the bar onto the patio complete the sleek neighborhood vibe.

A half-dozen colorful ceviches open the menu, and choosing presents a challenge. We selected the ceviche mixto with cubed mahi, whole shrimp, thin-sliced octopus, red onion and a fiery rocoto leche de tigre sauce, all capped by a jaunty dime-size slice of habañero. Sweet potato provided textural contrast and cooled the palate.

From the small plates, we chose the empanada, a flaky, deep-fried turnover stuffed with beef, potato, raisins and olives served atop a mild, nutty ocopa sauce. Next, the “chancho,” a pork belly confit, crisped top and bottom, served atop braised purple cabbage and finished with crunchy green apple chimichurri. The cabbage and apple provided sweet-tart crunch to contrast the salty pork, which disappeared on the tongue. Beautiful.

For entrees, J’s soy-glazed hangar steak cooked to a tender, pink medium rare, complemented by portobello mushrooms, fried potatoes and rice. For me, a pan-roasted corvina with manila clams, pork sausage, tapenade alongside buttery carrot “pasta” cut into pappardelle-like ribbons, cooked to al dente. All delicious.

Apple crisp with carrot-lemon ice cream (yep, I said carrot and lemon) rounded out our Saturday night meal, and we walked home, satiated and so grateful to be living in this neighborhood.

Del Inti, you continue to surprise us with your flavors and unexpected contrasts. Nos gusta mucho y hasta pronto.

50 Plates in the Pearl

April 15, 2011

Pan roasted halibut, fiddlehead ferns, black trumpet mushrooms.

A dank spring Friday in Portland. The rain-flogged daffodils cower. It’s the kind of evening that begs for a cocktail and comfort food to properly usher in the weekend.

Big bro James suggested dinner at 50 Plates in the Pearl after having met one of the owners through work. The hunt for a parking space frayed nerves a bit, but it was nothing a vodka martini couldn’t smooth over.

The vibe of this spacious corner place combines clubby (sleek wood-paneling, high bar tables and textured white quartz wall tiles) with old-school diner (comfy booths and banquettes, smooth-top white dining tables). The menu features a cross-section of comforting American traditions. Our first bite was a petite California date stuffed with Vermont cheddar, wrapped in bacon. Sweet, salty, not too crisp — we could have eaten a bucketful. Next was a half dozen oysters spiked with beer, a drop of hot sauce, lime and cilantro. Hola, mis pequeños amigos.

After little bites, we moved on to small plates. The four of us shared two chopped Cobb-esque salads from the specials list: addictive with bay shrimp, avocado, cherry tomatoes, egg, croutons and a crunchy mix of lettuces tossed with buttermilk blue cheese, lemon anchovy dressing.  Zandra opted for the Knuckle Sandwich, a buttery mini lobster roll. She reported it as tasty, her only gripe being that the bread overwhelmed the lobster. James ordered, and we all dipped into, a steaming bowl of pan-roasted mussels in a verdant broth of IPA, green tomatoes and chile paste.

For entrees, James, Zandra and I were unable resist the much-hyped pan-roasted halibut atop fiddlehead ferns, black trumpet mushrooms and an herb butter sauce. The rich flavors and textures bolstered the raves from our server, and we were converts. And when she declared that 50 Plates is known for its burger … well, you can guess what J ordered. A perfectly juicy Cascade Natural patty dressed up with Amish gorgonzola and thick cut bacon. “Best burger I’ve had in Portland so far,” he said. High praise, indeed. On the side, perfectly crisp hand-cut frites  (twice fried in beef fat, no less) from the snacks menu. We polished off one serving and ordered another.  God bless America.

We briefly considered splitting another burger for dessert, but level heads prevailed. James and Zandra went for the recommended key lime tart, a smooth-textured beauty topped with plump fresh berries and raspberry sauce. J and I ordered the cheese board — a trio of teleme, ale washed aged goat and that haunting Amish gorgonzola, complemented nicely with a drizzle of unfiltered local honey, fruit mince and crackers.

50 Plates: You transformed a gray, drizzly day into a mini road trip across America. Top down, wind in our hair, refreshed. We will see you again soon.

We won’t deny it: We love going out to eat, and we don’t mind spending money on a nice dinner. We love cooking at home, too, but there is something about the anticipation of an evening out — whether it’s just the two of us, or with family and friends — that imparts a celebratory feeling. Tonight, we met James, Zandra, David and Karen at Wildwood in the Pearl District to celebrate David’s birthday, so the scene was set: delightful company, cool spring evening and a lovely high-end restaurant. David knows wine, we all love to eat and drink, not a picky person in the group. So, it was perfect, right? That we were disappointed came as a surprise.

The menu showcases local, seasonal ingredients, so in early March, we had a plethora of winter vegetables and hearty meats and flavors verging on Mediterranean. Appetizers were the night’s clear winners, in my opinion. Standouts in the starter arena included bright, fresh flavors of roasted parsnip and grapefruit salad with creme fraiche and a drizzle of aromatic truffle oil. And I’ll be honest: I would have kept the buttery pork belly and dungeness crab app to myself if I thought I could get away with it.

Among the six of us, we tried four entrees. Karen and Zandra both had the oven-roasted pork chop, a mammoth cut, nicely cooked, but topped with a preserved tomato sauce that seemed to overpower the dish. James and David ordered lamb which looked promising, but the meat was chewy. (Dare I say gamey? Yes, I dare.) My rib eye filet, the size of a small fist, was nicely browned on the surface, and a lovely medium pink inside, but the flavor was non-existent, and the meat … how could it possibly have been tough? J’s entree of crispy, flavorful duck confit with deliciously caramelized brussels sprouts and pancetta was the only redeeming plate.

First impressions are everything, especially when the competition is so strong. We might give Wildwood another chance, in another season. Maybe.