Friday, August 31, 2012


Following, I am, true to form.  From MetroVino, where I was not only impressed by Greg Denton's food, but by the amicable chef himself, I tracked him to his relatively new venture, Ox.  Not far from two of my other favorite Portland haunts, Toro Bravo and Ned Ludd, this North Portland nabe is quickly becoming a haven of deliciousness.  Described as "Argentine inspired Portland food", Ox isn't ascribing to be an authentic South American grill, but instead conjoining the best of both worlds to a current and festive end.

We sat in a skylit backroom adjunct to the main dining room, just adjacent to the woodfired stove, which pumped out heat that we couldn't feel, but was readily evident in the beaded foreheads of the chefs manning the grill.  The dining room was full upon our arrival, and the annex where we sat soon the same.  No reservations for parties less than six, so don your blue wig, or perhaps bide your time at Whey Bar next door, the jovial drink hall primarily opened up as a holding tank for waiting diners.

Ox features not only the obvious prime carnivorous options, but also a wealth of uniquely prepared produce- that which the ox would till.   Ox is just fancy enough to begin our repast with a complimentary amuse: a delectable chilled potato soup drizzled with chive oil, cool and mildly peppery.  We ordered three dishes from Del Huerto (the garden), two of which we chose to arrive as starters, a bi-bean salad composed of green beans and romanos, bedecked in shaved radishes and those indigenous Oregon filberts (hazelnuts) nuzzled in a delectable romesco featuring those nuts instead of the classic almonds.  Another could've practically sufficed as a small meal: blistered (and they truly were) padron peppers (alert! there were

 some spicy ones in there!) topped a hearty bowl of pochon beans stewed with grilled Ox Garden tomatoes slicked with a rich lemon mayonnaise.  Salty and zesty and creamy and rich and bowl-lickingly good.

With a name like Ox, we had to try an undebatably carnivorous option: flanken-style beef short rib differed from the more common braised preparation, perhaps sacrificing some tenderness that a slow braise accomplished, but heightening the true beefy intensity of this meaty cut.    Selections from the Asados section of the menu are served simply with bread and a bracing chimichurri sauce, wonderful for anointing the meat but just as good to absorb with the chewy, crusty bread.  A Flintstonian T-Bone of wild Alaskan

 halibut might've outmeated the meat, though.  This behemoth cut charred like pitch but flaked like snow, crusted with a savory rub and almost comically decorated in delicate edible flowers, which just emphasized its stature.  Served alone, these Asados demand some accoutrements- not to beef them up (no pun intended) but to round things out.

  The ash roasted Walla Walla sweet mingled with buttered snap peas in a luxurious sauce enriched with fourme d'Ambert blue like no peas 'n pearl onions your mom ever made.  It paired especially well with the short ribs.   A maitake mushroom with smoked salt (which could be supersized as an entree) celebrated the mushroom's earthy flavor, simply sprinkled with chives and bachelor's buttons.  I liked it with the halibut, and plus, their flowers sort of matched.

On the cheffier side are a category of Braises & Roasts, more "one plate" type of options from which I tried a sautee of scallops, clams and mussels in a sumptuous puttanesca sauce fortified with roasted fennel and potatoes.  It didn't need anything aside except a wide spoon and a big appetite.  Made sure none of the remaining bread went to waste with it, too.

Chef Denton's wife, Gabi, is in charge of pastry, and I'm not sure whether Greg is more exuberant about his own cooking or the sweet finales she creates.  The restaurant seems to discourage you at all costs from leaving before dessert, and be sure to heed their commands.  A crowd favorite is the Magic- a nostalgic elevation of the grocery store novelty, Magic Shell.  Intensely dark chocolate armors a scoop of robust roasted peach-blackberry sorbet, surrounded by a battalion of exquisite summer fruits, the blackberries and cherries big as walnuts, the peaches would've required a sink had you been eating them out of hand.   For my part, however, I must wax poetic on the Torte- a warm hazelnut brown butter blondie with orgasmic honey-chamomile ice cream and a towering shard of crisp, sweet honeycomb.  Certainly we were too full from dinner to finish them, but then somehow they were gone.

The menu descriptions are simple, but the food here really is anything but.  No tweezers, no, or foams or pearls, but profoundly satisfying flavors and exciting tweaks of genius.  The name might lead you to expect a steakhouse vibe, but there is a tremendous lot more going on here than just that.  Even the humble slogan, "Argentine inspired Portland food" leaves something out; it should read "Argentine inspired GREAT Portland food".

2225 NE Martin Luther King Boulevard
5 'til close/Tuesday through Sunday

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