Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Diversion/PDX: LINCOLN

Jenn Louis cooks a lot bigger than her delicate, diminutive stature might foretell.  Maybe she chose the name of the imposing, six foot six inch president to indicate the big flavors she's dynamoing out of the kitchen, but whatever the reason, the food at Lincoln is lusty and honest- I guess a bit like Abe himself.

Lincoln is situated in North Portland, where Presidential street names are hallmark- another possible derivation.  Its menu is similarly fixated on locality: Louis is notorious for fanatically sourcing the best of seasonal and local fodder, and the menu celebrates it as enthusiastically as the atmosphere is festive.  There's a healthy din, but it is not raucous.  The waitstaff is as charming as they could possibly be, and as attractive as they are on their toes.

And we were a handful, a hungry party of six, celebrating Christmas Eve.  The menu reaches into lesser known comestibles along with more familiar ones, so there is ample opportunity to try novel items as well as tweaked traditionals.  Louis seems to like to turn proportions on their head, like the deliciously coarse pesto that accompanies the artisanal bread (on request), featuring a rough chop of chunky nuts anointed with honey and oil and just a hint of herbs, disproportionate to the original.  Similarly, a raw salad of julienned kohlrabi featured a greater amount of juicy winter citrus than the vegetable, scattered with bitter nibs of cocoa and preserved cherries, most likely put up from a nearby orchard.  The experimental among you can sample the likes of cretons (similar to rillettes), beef tongue or sea urchin.  We played

things a little more safely but to a great end: yeasted polenta fritters were the brilliant results of expert frying, their tender interiors melting away like cotton candy inside shatteringly crisp crusts of greaseless gold.  Teamed up with half-moons of tempura-ed acorn squash and a kicky pimenton aioli, 'tis not for the faint of appetiite, but their deliciousness justifies every last calorie.

Another ample salad updated the classic Caesar with  a toss of radicchio and endive gently swathed in a zesty dressing, and draped in gorgeous, shining jewel-like metallic white anchovies, their briny bite imparting the requisite oceanity.  Grilled octopus was a spherical study: round olives and new potatoes surround one long cylinder of grilled tentacle, plump and rife with beachy char, pickled onions strewn like shore reeds.                                                                      

The only pasta we tried was perhaps too subtle: it is already off the menu when I look back now, but then again, the menu updates daily based on ingredient availability and popularity, so one can't be sure our take was the reason.  The bucatini were perfectly cooked, supple and tender, but the mild crabmeat and slick of butter didn't result in much more than a sum of its parts.

This cannot be said for a plank of roasted sturgeon, wrapped in bacony-crisp ruby prosciutto and sided with firm tarbeis beans, resplendently flavorful and tossed with a colorful aromatics.  Veggies, however, are on a slightly shorter leash, and I ordered a side of braised kale, but
 the bits of apple and sweet glaze rendered it cloying.  Better off sticking to mainstays, and maybe come springtime the produce will emerge more reliably.  Like a beefy ribeye topped with a knob of butter, and sided with lightly poached duck egg (my picture didn't do it justice, so use your imagination).  Similarly, you can't go wrong with Louis' roast chicken leg and shoe string fries.  These frites are inconquerably crisp: we even played "wishbone" with one particularly horseshoe-shaped one, and I got the long end, but I think I shared my luck with everyone who was tableside.

This was most certainly the case with dessert menu, which somehow arrived at our table in its entirety.  For those of us who erroneously thought we just wanted a little taste of something sweet to share amongst the table, the bonanza of pastry just proved us wrong with each forthcoming plate.  From a  simple-but-flawless hot fudge sundae, cold and creamy, to brutti ma buoni, which were
 nothing like the misshapen biscuits with which I was familiar from Italy, but shared their delicate, nutty-meringue component.  Lincoln's is a one big, puffy oversized clod hovering over a dollop of creme fraiche, its crisply melting shell studded with lusty cherries and drizzled with a sweet rosemary-inflected honey.
A dense ginger cake, fudgy in texture and richly spiced, was crowned with a sastruga of ephemeral whipped cream.  Even a cheese plate, usually the last thing I'd order in terms of dessert, balanced a zippy Pecorino inflected with juniper with a variety of fun pairing options, from matchsticks of  julienned apple to honeycomb and toasty walnuts, and a buttery cocoa nib shortbread just this side of savory.  The blue ribbon prize winner, I think, though, was the pain perdu, dense and eggy with a a rich caramelized cider syrup simultaneously buttery and tart.  It had the added bonus of striking an unmistakable resemblence to my mom's decadent German pancakes, which she tops with lemon, butter and powdered sugar, and are the
 breakfast/brunch version of this sumptuous sweet.   Although the coffee wasn't Portland's finest (Stumptown), Ristretto  made a valiant alternate, brewed inky-strong and no short of a necessity after such a repast.  As a grand finale, our charming waiter, Gabriel, brought out a tray of short tumblers, filled with a complimentary dram of a thick, sweet housemade walnut liqueur from a tree growing in Jenn's own backyard.  And yes, by now I'd evolved from calling her Ms. Louis to Jenn: for a restaurant dubbed with a surname, Lincoln has a way of putting you on a first-name basis in no time.

  • 3808 N Williams Portland Oregon 97227
  • Tuesday- Saturday 5:30 to close
  • (503) 288-6200
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