Grüner Dining Adventure

This month’s dining adventure was at Grüner, in downtown Portland. Restaurateur and chef Christopher Israel created the menu with the idea of melding European alpine food with Pacific Northwest flavor. I don’t really understand the concept – inspired by the alpine regions on the Danube, maybe? Their website has a longer explanation about their inspiration. Maybe the librarian in me is too quick to want to catalog everything.

I met my dining companion at 5pm last week for dinner. Oddly, when she called for reservations, they told her they only had tables available at 5pm or 8pm. But the restaurant was never even half full while we were dining. What’s up with the reservation systems here in Portland? But I digress.

We really enjoyed our meal, the service was very good, and the atmosphere was warm and inviting. The decor is gray with warm brown tones and wood, which was very pleasant on a sunny day. We wondered how it’d feel on a typical grey Portland day.

My friend arrived first, and she’d already ordered a glass of pinot gris. The afternoon was sunny and pleasant, which lead me to think about ordering a rosé. Our server told me the only rosé type of wine they had was a Château d’Arlay Corail, a dry French wine that is sometimes coral (corail, in French) colored. She brought me a little taste of the wine first, which was a great idea because not everyone would have liked it. It’s very light and dry. The color was very unusual – it looked like a pale brown sherry. It smelled like ripe plums, and was dry and a little bit acidic, with a medium finish. It’s a blend of 3 red varieties (Pinot Noir, Trousseau, Poulsard) and 2 white varieties (Chardonnay, Savagnin). I enjoyed a glass of it but probably wouldn’t buy a bottle of it.

We had fun perusing the menu and pondering all the possibilities. A wonderful bread basket was brought out – they had a seedy grain bread and amazing pretzel bread with coarse salt sprinkled all over. We requested a second piece of pretzel bread because it was so good!

For dinner, we ended up ordering some small plates so we could try a variety of things. The polenta croquettes stuffed with blue cheese were delicious. They were fried perfectly and served nice and hot so the cheese was melted and the crust was still crispy. The filling tasted like gorgonzola. My dining companion had the canapés of house smoked salmon mousse, which she liked.

For our next course,  we ordered the nettle and ricotta dumplings with black trumpet mushrooms and Parmesan cheese. They were incredibly light and tasty; they looked like gnocchi but were so much lighter. I still can’t decide if the dumplings were the best part of the meal or if the polenta croquettes were. The kitchen did a great job with both.  We also ordered the rabbit and foie gras terrine wrapped in house-cured bacon with pickled fiddlehead ferns as a garnish. The terrine was pretty good but lacked something (onion? a splash of wine or Calvados?). Perhaps I’d expected more foie gras and less rabbit. The pickled fiddleheads were a nice change from cornichons, and were much tastier than my do-it-yourself sauteed fiddlehead project last year.

We had dessert, of course. I ordered the dark chocolate-apricot torte, which was served atop crème anglaise, and my friend had the poppy seed biscuit, with strawberries and lemon curd. They were both delicious. The chocolate torte was light and flavorful. The poppy seed biscuit tasted more like a scone than a biscuit.

We eyed the sausage plates as they went by. I will definitely go back, order some pretzel bread and a beer, and try some other dishes from the menu.


Restaurant St. Jack

Last weekend my aunts, Linda and Carole, were in town for a visit. They’re on a great adventure in their RV driving from their home in Northern California to Alaska and back. We had a lovely visit with them. We went to lunch at St. Jack, over on Clinton at SE 20th and really enjoyed our visit together, including the food, which is always an important part of any Saunders family event.

St. Jack specializes in the food of Lyon, France, particularly typical rustic cafe (or bouchon) food. The space was pleasant with lots of windows and light. With four of us dining together, we were able to try a lot of little plates.

First, we ordered little appetizer plates.  The gougères were made to order and were warm delicious bites. They reminded me of my grandmother’s cheese straws. I could have feasted just on these but I’m glad I didn’t. Linda ordered the cervelle de canut, a goat cheese spread with shallots and garlic and a nice chunk of baguette – it was very flavorful and not at all strong and goaty. I could also have feasted on just this. The radishes were cut into nice little bites but they were just radishes.

Todd and I both ordered the ham and cheese tartine, which were little open faced sandwiches, not tarts. The ham was wonderful because it was tasty and had very little fat or other yucky bits, the cheese was good and strong, and the bit of mixed lettuces with very light dressing was tasty. Unfortunately, the baguette used was really crunchy (though delicious!) so it was nearly impossible to cut it with a fork to eat it, and equally difficult to pick it up and take a bite. I ended up eating the ham and lettuces with a fork and then picked up the baguette, added some of the cervelle de canut, and ate it separately. Carole had the salmon tartine, which she liked.

For dessert, Todd and I ordered a chocolate tart, as did Carole, which was incredibly rich and chocolaty. Yum! Linda ordered an eclair,which is nothing like those monsters you buy in the grocery store. It was delicate, with a delicious filling and just the right amount of dark chocolate.

Gougères and radishes at Restaurant St. Jack

Next time we go, I plan to try the chicken liver mousse or the sausage. The vichyssoise looks good too. They have a good wine selection with glasses, carafes, or bottles available. Not cheap but not ghastly, either. They have a happy hour, too, which I’m very interested in checking out.