First Notes from Portland (more coming…..)
September 22, 2014
“Go to Ox.”
I heard that so often while I was in Portland it made me skeptical. It can’t be that great, right?
Wrong. This is the most amiable restaurant I’ve been to in quite a while. It’s not just that the food is straight up delicious, the service sweet and the room casually comfortable. Somehow an aura of happiness permeates the place; I can’t imagine anyone going there and not having a good time.
And the food (like that intense little cup of tomato bisque at the top) really is wonderful.
The dish I remember with the greatest clarity is this spicy braised beef tripe laced with little threads of octopus. The combination sounded odd to me, but once you taste it you think – how come I've never had this before? The octopus becomes little jolts of texture tangled in the luxurious softness of the tripe. And that mint aioli underlines the flavors in the most attractive fashion. I could have stopped right there and gone home happy.
But that would have meant missing the chowder – a signature dish. And for good reason. It’s a tour de force of flavor and texture, two kinds of clams in a briny creamy soup enriched with smoked marrow, which you scoop from the bone until it runs crazily through the soup. What keeps the dish from going over the top are those jalapenos, green heat zinging right through all that richness.
There are other wonders to begin: homemade ricotta, baked in balsamic brown butter and topped with a rich mushroom mixture. Fantastic steak tartare. Grilled salmon belly (it has been a memorable salmon season in this part of the world), with tomatoes…. But this is meant to be a meat-centric restaurant, and they have the big manly grill up front to prove it. The menu is indeed a carnivore’s delight.
and the lamb shoulder chop arrives with a burning spear of rosemary perfuming the air. But in the end it’s the vegetables that really knock you out.
Whole artichoke, roasted in the coals.
Grilled onions with walnuts, bits of beet and blue cheese.
Local beans with charred romesco sauce.
Cauliflower with golden raisins and peanuts.
The wine list is worth noting too: varied, beautifully chosen, nicely priced.
Portland's a food-obsessed town with great markets, fantastic sandwich shops, memorable ice cream (Salt and Straw always has a line for its fascinating concoctions) and some of the best Thai food in America. But should you happen to be there, I can only echo what everybody says – go to Ox.
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We are going there in a couple weeks to eat. I hope you post more notes before October 8th.
Next time, hit The Whey Bar first (oyster bar, same owners, same location) and then sit at the bar in Ox to eat. Very friendly bartenders, awesome drinks, knowledgeable staff willing to talk about everything involved with the food and drink preparation. Love that place…
And Salt and Straw, and Sawasdee food cart for pad Thai! Monster portions for cheap…