Monday, January 3, 2011


"Keep Portland Weird!" is painted in huge, white block letters upon a brick wall across the street from the new Laurelhurst Market: new as in the old market of the same name was a bodega of sorts, of dubious legitimacy, purveying an even sketchier array of random commodities . But the Market in its current incarnation exhibits neither nefarious quality, now a restaurant of outstanding repute which also houses a small, locavore-esque butcher shop where you can purchase the meatier comestibles available on the restaurant's menu, as well as sandwiches (made with fresh, local Fleur de Lis bread) and beverages to eat in or take away. Despite the spare, industrial decor and exposed ceiling beams that arch across the dining room from the market to the bar, the interior is warm, rustic and inviting. Little twinkly votive candles and lights glowing off a collection of shiny pots and pans in the open kitchen create a convivial atmosphere. Just in front, chef David Kriefels keeps a hawk-eyed watch on each plate from mis to service, maintaining superlative quality control
certainly not exclusive solely to those beans (You know, the ones your mother would have made if she loved you, which is what is charmingly noted at the bottom of the menu). The no-reservations policy ubiquitous to Portland's casual dining scene fuels a steady crowd at the small bar, which boasts a nice little cast of cocktails and a very reasonably priced wine list, heavy on the reds. They even had a mourvedre (which I've been dying to try) by the glass: a plush, fruity little varietal from the centuries old grape that is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, and the one they poured here proves why.

Laurelhurst Market is primarily a steak house, but almost anything on the offer has such robust flavor that you won't miss meat even if you don't order it. A spa-sounding endive and grapefruit salad
with Dungeness and chervil flaunted those crisp, juicy leaves lavished with rich, sweet morsels of crab, brightened with citrus and nestled in a creamy, smooth puree of sunchokes. All those sprightly ingredients join forces to a decadent effect. We bumped a side dish of perfectly roasted beets with pistachios up to appetizer status, and while their strawberry gastrique was mostly undetectable but for a meager puddle hidden underneath, it did pair quite winsomely with the salad (though, admittedly, we should have left it in its side dish category where it would've performed more deftly. Note to self: obey the chef!).

The menu breaks mains down into steaks and entrees, the former including every-which-cut of bovinity imaginable, where you can choose your cut from the daily offerings which , although specified a la carte, arrive with thoughtful accoutrements. They are a little veggie-scant, though, which provides a tremendous opportunity to take advantage of the solid array of ridiculously good side dishes. I definitely could've made a superb repast simply with a tasting plate of three or four of them. The steak frites arrive with a mountain of exceptional hand cut fries, and I saw some enormous Walla Walla sweet onion rings crowning the ribeye at the next table. Neither of those, however, could have been appreciably better than the brussels sprouts, uber-roasted to an almost melting tenderness, charred crispy on the edges by no stinginess of heat and oil, although they were supposed to have been prepared with lemon, anchovy and piment d'espelette, which if they were was with a very subtle hand.

Entrees include more meat, a few poultries, and a daily fish, prepared with a few more creative liberties than the steaks, and put the emphasis on umami-rich ingredients like mushrooms, wine-based sauces, truffles, and rich reductions.
Tournedos of filet mignon, the most expensive dish on the menu at $36 (but well worth it!) justifies its price with a rich lobe of fois gras, scored and sprinkled with a crispy nest of delicate celeriac frites, surrounded by a moat of truffled sherry gastrique upon a creamy potato puree. As rich and regal as it might sound, it tasted even voluptuously more so, fancifully toeing the line of excess but remaining just a crispy frite's-width shy. Idaho rainbow troutshone as the daily catch, hearty enough to rival the meats: two generous skin-on filets splayed atop a savory-sweet puree of butternut squash, and roasted chunks of fennel, parsnips and apple… an absolute bargain for a mere $20.

Desserts are wholly unnecessary here, but equally unmissable. Most are classics or riffs thereof: an affogato uses a rich chocolate sorbet instead of vanilla gelato, a superlative tarte tatin is buttery beneath melting vanilla bean ice cream. A little homework, however, nudged us toward a dulce de leche cheesecake with jammy Oregon huckleberries, described by
some internet commentator (with whom I cannot argue) as "knee-buckling". The substantial crumby graham cracker crust cradles dense creamy cheesecake, caramelly sweet with a smooth milky tang. This dessert has been on the menu since the beginning, and our waitress assured us it isn't going anywhere (be thankful). Just as good was a dense bread pudding, rife with tangy dried cherries and crusty on the edges of its little individual ramekin, and topped with a sweet mascarpone cream, whipped into weightlessness.

I'm amazed they can consistently produce food this exceptional at such reasonable prices. As does a good sister restaurant, it vigorously inspires a visit to Simpatica Dining Hall upon my next return to Portland. If this is the city's version of weird, I'm all for it. I guess, like they say, you can't take the trailer out of the girl.

Laurelhurst Market
3155 E. Burnside, Portland OR 97214
restaurant 503-206-3097
butcher shop 503-206-3099

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