Sunday, January 15, 2012


Chef Tony Demes is back in Portland with Noisette,  his second attempt at fancifying Portland's dining scene.  The address previously housed a new American restaurant called Filbert, but is now buffed, polished and translated into French, offering an eight-course prix-fixe menu as well as a la carte.  We visited Christmas Eve, where unbeknownst to us, the prix-fixe was the only option.  And honestly, it was virtually flawless... although coming unprepared for an eight-course meal that lasted three and three-quarters hours might have dampened its brilliance at times.  One must prepare oneself for these types of extenuated repasts- but quite frankly, there was nothing else to criticize.

From the open kitchen at the back of the small restaurant, which could seat only about forty (and on this occasion, was not half full) comes each meticulous course, gorgeous plates of curated delicacies fraught with flavorful flourishes.  We began our prix-fixe menu with a cube of Oregon albacore tartare topped with sunchoke cream and caviar, somehow attaining light and delicate and sumptuously rich and decadent at the same time.  The American white sturgeon caviar was a pillow of an ocean breeze, with none of the marked fishiness which usually averts me from caviar.

Next up (but a noticeable while later), came a slick jewel of house cured Quinalt Steelhead, its oily richness cut by a smattering of assorted radishes and alliums.   Another lengthy pause endured until the soup course: an unctuous celery root veloute whose smooth, mild earthiness was spiked with fried celery stems and crunchy roasted Oregon hazelnuts.

The gold-star dish of the night was to follow:   it was like baby food for the silver-spoon set, pearly rice in a creamy turnip-butter sauce perfumed with truffles and a wisp of cheesiness- then crowned with luscious chunks of Maine lobster to an inimitable end.   The last fish course was a smoked Idaho white sturgeon (caviar to start, belly to follow- true fin-to-tail utilization) which would have been my entree choice of the night had we been offered one.  Four meaty rectangles perched atop a golden puree of fingerling potatoes with chanterelle mushrooms and a red wine reduction Jackson Pollack-ed across the plate.  It is this type of assertive cooking that bursts forth flavor even with an apparent paucity of ingredients.  Demes shines in coaxing every atom of taste from each square inch of his food.

Quite frankly, I could easily have called it a day at this point, especially since the next course was duck (not a fan).  But the seared liver and pan roasted breast drew more raves from the table, and the potato gratin with dates and sauternes threw delicacy to the wind and reveled in its extravagance.  I rallied for our last course, because on a blustery wintery night with a chilly nip in the air, who can resist short ribs?  Braised tender in red wine atop a creamy smear of pureed Yukon golds which formed a path, dotted with chewy hedgehog mushrooms and pea shoots to a tiny filet of dry aged NY strip, scattered with crispy shallots and culminating in a revelatory finale to an exquisite meal.

A finale in the sense of savories, of course, as no holiday dinner is complete without dessert, and so Noisette's signature souffle: a buxom cloud of eggy sweetness served with individual pitchers of Manjari chocolate sauce- a milky smooth drizzle more chocolaty than sweet- a perfect balance to the sugary souffle.

And that, my friends, took about three hours and forty-five minutes to consume... from caviar to friandises.  Part in fault was my desire to get home and open presents, which instead got deflected until Christmas morning.  But regardless of actual time, the lapses between courses were conspicuous, and while I haven't a single point of contention with the food, I feel that without some tweaks to that end, Noisette might struggle.  I would, however, be keen on a revisit for their a la carte format, and if you have the wherewithal for such a marathon repast, I highly recommend the indulgence.  And please, Portland: you're at a five star restaurant, whether it has earned them technically yet or not.  Wear a tie...  or at least button up your flannel.

1937 NW 23rd Place
PortlandOR 97210        tel.   503.719.4599

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