Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bar Food: No Longer an Oxymoron

Back in the day (or "B in the D" as a friend's kid said) you went to a bar to drink. And, except for a bowl of stale store-bought pretzels or nuts, that was pretty much all that was offered in terms of sustenance.

But these days, especially here in Portland, the newer drinking holes are going head-to-head with finer restaurants, building kitchens, hiring chefs to run them and offering patrons everything from small plates to entrées to desserts.

I can remember when Nancy Hunt and Randy Goodman opened Bar Avignon on the then-nascent restaurant row at SE 21st and Division, its tagline was "just a bar." They offered a range of small plates to accompany their well-curated tap list, wine selection and Nancy's excellent cocktails. (Also at that time Randy swore they'd never, ever list a burger on their menu…but a little bird told me that chef Jeremy Eckel may have laced big R's coffee with a little sumpin' sumpin' and that may be about to change. Stay tuned!)

The plates that Ben Bettinger is slinging at Beaker & Flask have put it at the top of dining as well as drinking lists in town, and it's apparent that any bar worth its salt (or fleur de sel) seriously considers its food to be as critical a component of success as the creativity of its cocktail list.

When I had the chance to pick a spot for a happy hour meeting near downtown recently, Teardrop Lounge came up the winner. Word had it that chef Chris Degenhardt was putting out some mighty fine vittles to accompany the bar's top-notch drinks and, from the hour or so I spent there, its definitely a place to seek out for future HH action.

The Dungeness crab salad, a dollop of barely-adulterated crab topped by a hat of pink slaw (upper left) was not only pretty but plenty tasty. It was followed in a timely fashion by a slab of layered beet terrine drizzled with a balsamic reduction (right) that was impressive for its attractiveness while also treating the ingredients minimally, letting their flavors stand out. The same was true of the caramelized onion cazuela (top photo), a more complex flavor combination with the sweetly browned onions topped by a disk of chevre and a spoonful of olivada. I wanted to applaud.

Seems like, between the food that's hitting cocktail tables and the crazy food cart scene around here, if restaurants in town want to survive as more than special occasion choices they're going to need to look across the board at everything from their bar menus to their pricing, because any of the choices above would suit me fine for dinner any night of the week.

Details: Teardrop Lounge, 1015 NW Everett St. 503-445-8109.

No comments: