Friday, June 12, 2009
Call Me a Luddite
Luddite pron. \ˈlə-ˌdīt\ ; noun; origin: perhaps from Ned Ludd, 18th century Leicestershire workman who destroyed a knitting frame in 1811: One of a group of early 19th century English workmen destroying laborsaving machinery as a protest; broadly: one who is opposed to technological change
To that I would add: "One who is especially fond of heat and smoke as applied to the preparation of food; esp. as found at Ned Ludd in Portland."
Last night was one of those evenings where dinner was an up-for-grabs question, where no one was stepping up to the proverbial plate with anything remotely promising, so a last-ditch brainstorming session was called. Where it came from I don't remember, but someone said, "How about that Ned Ludd place? " and everyone just kind of nodded.
Which is how we found ourselves standing before the large-windowed, metal-sided barnlike structure that houses Ned Ludd on a busy stretch of MLK just north of Fremont. Warmly (but not dimly) lit with a DIY decor that includes an odd assortment of cast-off chandeliers from the Rebuilding Center, the dominant impression is of a woodpile, albeit a very comfortable and well-arranged one, if that's possible.
The reason is because there's wood everywhere, and I'm not talking about the weathered siding on the walls but honest-to-goodness chunks of logs and branches like you'd throw on a campfire. The service bar is the main feature of the dining room, basically a counter-topped framework that holds the stacked wood used in the large brick oven that takes up most of the wall behind it and is the only source of heat to cook the food that chef Ben Meyer single-handedly hauls in and out of the fiery furnace.
And I'm here to tell you that the food is spectacular. Not in an über-sophisticated, highly condimented way, mind you, but where the elements of a dish are married to make a totally delicious, deeply flavored experience bite after bite. For instance, my ruby trout (above right), roasted and set on a spring onion, fennel, lemon and tarragon gratin was simple, seasonal and phenomenally satisfying.
The head cheese on toast appetizer, which Ben said he made in honor of their first whole hog, was served with a thin slice of pickled onion and mustard, but one bite and the experience of having the salty, herb-infused gelled broth melt on my tongue leaving the meaty bits to chew on obviated the need for any accompaniment, even bread. The fresh baby bok choy salad with sesame oil and Ben's crispy duck chips (my new favorite snack food...where do I buy more?) was a fantastic combination, fresh and light and crunchy.
Equally satisfactory was the (house-made, of course) pancetta-draped game hen on a garlic chard sauté (above left). I've never seen Dave devour chicken as eagerly as this, if that gives any indication of how good it was.
Ben said they're just waiting for OLCC approval to open the large patio out front and plan to have a separate menu of very simple grilled food and cold drinks featuring local beers. I nearly leaned over and laid a big wet one on him when he assured me there would be no PBR in sight, instead proferring Old Speckled Hen as the house brew, one of my very favorite malt beverages.
In the meantime, get in and have some food and a brew (they also have aperitifs and wine), and I'd especially recommend trying a pint of the brand new Upright Brewing #6, a rye-based beer that is nicely dry and startlingly tasty.
Details: Ned Ludd, 3925 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. Phone 503-288-6900.