Friday, September 04, 2009

The Bar at the Market

A friend went to one of my favorite restaurants, indeed, one of Portland's best, and was not pleased with the food or the prices. She felt that for what they got and the money they spent, she would have been able to go to her favorite burrito cart ten times and been much happier with the food. And she's sworn she'll never go back again.

Evan Zimmerman, barmeister extraordinaire.

Now, barring a ridiculously bad experience, I'll always give a restaurant another try. And particularly since starting this blog, I almost feel an obligation to go more than once, if possible, in the name of fairness and to get a chance to sample as much of the menu as possible. So when a (different) friend wanted to meet for a drink at Laurelhurst Market, I couldn't wait to go.

The Badminton Cup.

You see, we'd had a spectacular meal there right after they opened, swooning over the 12-hour brisket and the beef shoulder with romesco. But our drinks were so-so that first night, not up to the raves I'd heard about the talents of head bartender Evan Zimmerman. So it seemed a second trip was in order, just to be fair, don't you think?

Those addictive fritters.

We walked in and opted for a seat at the long bar along one end of the restaurant with a view out over the patio on one side and sheltered from the din of the dining room by a partial wall on the other side. It was just after they opened for the evening and fairly quiet, so we quickly ordered our drinks and first round of apps from Mr. Zimmerman and settled in.

The drinks came, and they were stunning. Perfect for this end-of-summer evening, one a Lime Gin Rickey, the other a lovely concoction called the Badminton Cup consisting of gin, mint (thus the name), lime and a hint of cucumber. The salt cod fritters, a must-have on this menu, followed fast on the heels of our cocktails and were, if anything, better than on my first trip (and they were terrific then). This time they were crispier on the outside and creamier on the inside, and the aioli had just the right balance of garlic to be punchy without overwhelming.

Pimientos de padron.

The pimientos de padron, the type grown by Viridian Farms, are available now (until the first frost) and are something I dream about the rest of the year. They were seared in a smidge of olive oil, then mixed with sungold cherry tomatoes and mint and sprinkled with crunchy salt crystals. After switching to beer (they have a wonderful selection of six on tap) for me and rosé for my partner, we ordered two more substantial small plates, the sweetbreads with chanterelles and the gnocchi with lobster mushrooms.

Sweetbreads with chanterelles.

Very clean and tasting slightly like pork, the sweetbreads were light and meaty and laid on top of a mound of chanterelles, teeny baby artichokes and black olives. With a lovely reduction of pan juices, they were divine.

Gnocchi is, as I've said before, always a question mark for me. And chefs these days seem to be fond of searing them so they develop a crust on the outside, which, while they taste good, just don't give me the satisfaction of biting into the little pillows of happiness that I crave in this dish. Fortunately, these were very satisfying in a way that made my eyes close in dreamy delight. For real. And the substantial texture of the lobster mushrooms and the pop of kernels of sweet corn, all in a creamy bath of flavor, is a memory I'll be savoring for a long, long time.

We ended with a quick glass of Carpano Antica, an amber-colored vermouth, over ice with a wedge of orange peel and a bit of Dolin Blanc, a slightly sweet clear vermouth. Chatting with Evan about these caused him to pour us a taste of his favorite after-work libation, Fernet-Branca (right), which he described as tasting like myrrh and mint. Like the restaurant itself, I could see it growing on me with repeated applications.

Photos by Kim Ferris.

Details: Laurelhurst Market, 3155 E Burnside. Phone 503-206-3097.


TomInVV said...

Sounds like a lovely experience all around.
But on the sweetbreads: maybe they tasted somewhat like pork because they were from a pig? Those little pancreases had to come from some animal or another, I'm thinking.

kab said...

I read online that they can come from calf, lamb, beef or pork. And can be either the pancreas or the thymus. One wag theorized they got the name "sweetbreads" because if they were called "thymus gland" you couldn't give them away.

TomInVV said...

I guess to see whether pork-tasting sweetbreads came from pork, we'd have to line up an array of species-specific plates, for a comparison. That might be too many sweetbreads at one sitting.
Ya, we don't want to call them pancreases or thymusus, and we don't want to call internal organs offal. That would sound . . . awful. Euphemisms protect our sensibilities: think canola oil, or mountain oysters.

kab said...

Oh, I'd be so up for an "offal taste-off"!

Anyone else have any favorite euphemisms?