Monday, August 29, 2011

Diversion/PDX: NED LUDD

If ever there was a negative connotation with Ned Ludd and his followers, Portland's eponymous restaurant swiftly eliminates any residual disdain. Nestled behind an overgrown hedge of indigenous shrubbery, their small, humble dining room opens up into an outdoor garden in front, and has become the home of PDX's 2011-style Luddites. The restaurant's corners, nooks, crannies and countertops are laden with frumpy plants, stumpy logs and all vintages of axes, ice picks and hardware. Wrought iron chandeliers suspended from the ceiling cup air plants instead of lightbulbs. The menu is just as rustic and bountiful, but executed miraculously (and impeccably) from a single wood-burning stove that anchors the kitchen.

The menu is cordoned into forebits, kaltbits, warmbits and plats, my favorites falling into the warmbits category. Broad beans with bacon balk the barely-blanched vegetable trend by stewing them with meaty shreds of brown sugar-cured pork, reminding you of the grandmother you may or may not have ever had.
Likewise came the summer squash and tomatoes, cooked down just too, too much which in turn becomes too, too good, redolent of fresh basil, roasted garlic and a cook's love. In a heartier turn emerged a plate of piping hot roasted potatoes, with a seductively salty, crackling crust and a (perhaps excessive) thick slather of insanely garlicky aioli.
Lighter was our selection from the kaltbits, a brilliant seasonal salad, boasting myriad lovely little green things, edible weeds and flowers, juicy seeded cucumber, and roasted chunks of crookneck squash, sprinkled with salty chevre- like a late snow on an early spring garden.

Of the plats, I took advantage of Ned Ludd's responsibly long-line caught, wild Pacific tuna, something I would never order abiding by Monterey Bay Aquarium recommendations. There was no guffaw from our waitress when I ordered it medium, and it arrived perfectly done, but retaining a juicy, moistness most often lost when cooked through. The preparation seemed inspired by the canned food aisle in a dry goods store: green olives, oil-packed peppers and canned tuna, but instead in their freshest forms. The peppers were cooked down to a melting tenderness but retained a distinct garden-fresh verdance, with a luxurious drizzle of pungent green evoo. The wood oven did wonders for the trout, too: a whole fish, deboned, with a skin as crisp as flakes of Maldon, and a succulent flesh stuffed with whole lemon slices and covered by a tangle of chickweed and cucumbers. They like to use humble, unusual ingredients like purslane and edible weeds in homage to ecovorism and simplicity, and to great effect. Perhaps the most impressive entree was the pork chop... or shall I say chops, as two monstrous cuts balanced atop a pile of crunchy pickled summer beans, both yellow and green. Trimming away the substantial fat cap left a more reasonably sized portion, but had me rueing the fact we didn't have a dog to bring it home to.

I let Dad choose dessert, since he was treating, and although I certainly would've gone the cherry clafouti or panna cotta route, he chose seasonal berries with creme anglaise and brown butter shortbread (Dad's a pie-and-ice cream kind of guy). That said, there was no disappointment with our selection. The shortbread was hearty: thick, crisp, buttery squares wedged into a hillock of sweet, rich cream riddled with an avalanche of local berries. Coffee is French press, robust and strong, served in delicate flowered china cups with quaint matching saucers.

As we waddled out, our charming waitress bidding us adieu, I asked if they had ever considered selling souvenir t-shirts (organic cotton ones, of course), to which she admitted they keep talking about, but hadn't gotten around to. So I suggested the perfect slogan: on the front, "Proud to be a Luddite." On back, simply, "Eat at Ned's." Which I highly recommend you do.

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