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PDX: Chef's Counter at Wildwood

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PDX: Chef's Counter at Wildwood

Rod Williams | Jan 12, 2005 01:20 AM

Ohhh – I’m a happy, happy foodie! Just spent two happy hours sitting at the counter at Wildwood, enjoying the best meal I’ve had in ages. What a beautiful restaurant!

I hopped on the Portland Streetcar to head over to NW 21st Ave. (I’m doing the whole tourist thing here too, you understand) and bellied up to the bar around 8:10. Started with my customary Tanqueray martini while perusing the menu – I loved the fact that they left me alone, correctly judging that I was in no hurry (once I got my martini).

Got to see some dishes on their way out to the dining room – sorely tempted by the pan-seared Maine scallops on Bosc pear puree with tangerine brown butter and crispy parsnips, not to mention the shaved Parma prosciutto with roasted fennel, dried strawberries (fergawdsakes!) and a citrus ricotta toast. Also impressed by the Braeburn apple and endive salad with buttermilk blue cheese, walnuts and sherry-shallot vinaigrette. But I cast all of those things aside in favor of the seared potato dumplings (i.e. gnocchi) with sautéed black trumpet mushrooms, arugula, toasted hazelnuts and balsamic brown butter – all out of the wood-fired oven right in front of me. It was sensational – a wonderful marriage of earthy flavors and textures. Just let down a teensy bit by the ho-hum glass of Carabella (?) 2003 Pinot Gris,, which didn’t do anything, alas, for the dish, or me. Shoulda picked the Drouhin Pinot Noir ...

After the 8-8:30 rush abated somewhat, I had the chance to ask one of the cooks if that was really a Tandoori grill they were using back there, with long skewers of various hunks o’ meat, and also a fabulous naan-like bread they were putting with a Caesar-like salad. Yes, indeed it was! I love this cross-cultural stuff! What’s more, the cook told me, this one was worn out and they were already curing its replacement out in the parking-lot!

Then came the mesquite-roasted venison leg on sour cherry braised red cabbage, with caraway spaetzle and glazed chestnuts. Need to take a moment’s silence here to dwell on that little rhapsody. This was soul food at its finest – every forkful a revelation. At one point I had blissed out for a minute or so, and a waiter swung by and asked if I was ready for the plate to be cleared – I had to brandish my steak knife and fight him off! No one got that plate until I’d wiped it clean with my last slice of (delicious) bread. This was all accompanied and greatly enhanced by a generous glass of Qupe’s delicious "Wildwood Cuvee", Santa Barbara County Syrah, 2002.

Since the dessert cook had been the friendliest and chattiest on the crew, I felt it would be churlish not to try one of his offerings, so I went for the orange allspice cake with cranberries, blood orange slices and crème anglaise, with a glass of a sparkling moscato from somewhere in Oregon. Very nice, but really gilding the lily after that spectacular red cabbage, which will live in my taste memory forever!

Thanks again to the PDX chowhounds who gave me such great suggestions for my quickie visit!

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