Went to Carafe tonight. Interesting place. I guess he's trying to create a streetside cafe in Portland like you might find in Paris. I don't know. I haven't been to Paris. But I think it works.
We called at the last minute and asked about dress since both my wife and I were in shorts. "No problem," they said; they get the full gamut, from jeans and t-shirts to dressy people going to the Opera. Driving up to free valet in that part of town was a nice surprise. When we entered we were greeted by Sauton, though he did not indicate that he was the chef/owner. He just happily checked our reservation and led us to a table. It has the feel of a nice or slightly chic diner. The tables and chairs aren't nice, but they have a little style to them. Same with the decor. There's ample seating outside, but we stayed in, though next to a large open sliding glass door facing Market.
The menu is very traditional French as you can see from the attached link. We split the endive from the light entrees menu and my wife got the nicoise salad and I got the braised rabbit.
The endive was quite simple, but very tasty. Only 4 ingredients, but very good. You had braised endive wrapped in the ham (two of these looking like little crepes or enchiladas) covered in bechamel and topped with gruyere sitting in a hot ceramic dish. Yes, we sopped up every drop of the sauce with our bread.
The salad was straight-forward, but with good ingredients prepared well. The hard-boiled eggs, eg, were done perfectly, not rubbery whites and with the yolks just finished. My wife even commented, "these are just how you like them." The albacore and anchovies were a little too much as far as fishiness goes for my wife, but when adequately mixed in with the tomatoes, green tomato, egg, and especially olive, it balanced them out and made a nice combination. There was still probably too much albacore and anchovy, though.
My rabbit was very good. It was braised perfectly so that it just fell of the bone and shredded with ease but wasn't dried out at all. The sauce with the prunes, bacon, and everything else was excellent. A little sweet, but also meaty, smoky and accented by aromatic spices. It was joined by fingerling potatoes braised in the stew as well. I very much enjoy these kinds of sauces that have a sweet, aromatic, meaty, smoky balance. Often they're too sweet or too tangy, but this one was just right.
We also ordered a side of braised greens and bacon. Quite good. The greens weren't overcooked and mushy and the bacon was wonderful.
For dessert we got a special, a Mt. Adams huckleberry tart with whipped cream and blackberry coulis. Small, but very good. The tart was individually made and the crust was very light and buttery.
All presentations were simple, but elegant. The flavors were much the same. The prices are decent, but the value not as good as when Sauton was at Lucere. Most of the higher-end items are in the $15-20 range, but without sides. You're clearly getting larger portions than a place like Buckman's where the prices are generally half Carafe, so the prices are definitely fair, I think, for the quality of ingredients and preparation. But I wasn't blown away like I was when Sauton was at Lucere and you had an amazing menu with an amazing list of pastries and almost nothing over $20. Sauton's Lucere is just going to have to be The Wonder Years, when eating was near perfect. Still, Carafe is good eats.
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