There are some restaurants you go to and you know exactly where you are. Bread & Ink Cafe on Hawthorne feels exactly like a Portland cafe should. Open room, great local history (it was the original location of Fred Meyer's first store in the 30s), comfortable chairs, good solid food with clean flavors. L'Auberge back in the day, or Castagna now. On the opposite end are the corporate restaurants all the way from fast food drive-throughs to places like Chevy's where the one here will have identical siblings in Anchorage and Miami and Kansas City.
Then there are those places like Fenouil that are perfectly lovely but make you feel like you could be in San Francisco or Palm Springs. It's not that they're corporate so much as they somehow lack a sense that they're made from the fabric of the place they are in. Is it just me, or am I missing something?
Regardless, the food here is quite good judging by the lunch I had, a duck confit with flageolet beans, one Armagnac prune (not the advertised plural) and a strange little bit of undressed frisee. The duck was outstanding, the skin crackly and rich with fat, perfectly salted and meltingly tender. The beans had a nice al dente quality and a slightly smoky tinge that made them irresistible.
My dining partner KC ordered the Niçoise salad, a nice version with a big piece of seared tuna on top of greens and surrounded by haricots verts, potatoes, olives and a hard-boiled egg. She was even kind enough to let me pull out my camera and take pictures of the food, a kind of occupational hazard when you agree to dine with a blogger.
Last but not least we had coffee rather than dessert. The only reason that this is worth mentioning is that their coffee service is quite charming, a little set piece of coffee (in a cup, not a mug) with lumps of sugar (brown and white) and a little thimble-full of cream on a white platter.
This is an ideal place to bring your mother, your auntie or your just-graduated eighth-grade niece for lunch. And the large new Parisian-style outdoor dining area facing Jamison Square park looks like the it's going to be a popular place to sit outside on a warm night and survey the denizens (and denizen wannabes) of the Pearl. I just wish I knew where I was.
Details: Fenouil in the Pearl, 900 NW 11th Ave. Phone 503-525-2225.