Been meaning to try Fife ever since I read Jim Dixon's review in Willamette Week. Finally got there.
Interesting, though relatively simple, interior. Terra cotta colored walls with bright artwork. Booth style benches along the walls and tables spread evenly throughout the very open, high-ceilinged room. Bar at the entrance end, open cook's station at the other.
For an appetizer my wife had the potato, zucchini, and goat cheese cakes with lime cream, $6. It had a bit of a crunch to it and the cheese supplied mostly creaminess. The lime crema was probably a little strong, overpowering the other flavors, and the potatoes needed some seasoning. Starches without salt are pretty flavorless. It was okay, though.
I had the barbecued lamb ribs with cole slaw, $7. The cole slaw was overly bitter tasting and I didn't finish it. The ribs were quite tender, though maybe a little short on flavor. They were decent, but I would have preferred a more assertive sauce. As it was, the sauce provided a little sweetness, I think, and little more.
Overall, though, the appetizers seemed more boring than the entrees, and in fact, were. I don't know that there was anything that great among the first courses, although they are fair for the price. Nothing was over $8 and the bulk of the appetizers were $6. Very reasonable.
Neither of the two fish dishes interested my wife. (I thought for sure she'd be interested in the almond dusted black cod with charred tomatoes and basil; must have been the word "charred" that scared her off.) So instead, she got Dixon's recommendation, the cast iron chicken with porcinis, potatoes, and smoked bacon, $16. Yum. Best chicken I've had since the Peruvian rotisserie chicken I had in DC. Again, yum. Very crisp, well-seasoned skin and succulent meat. Very moist. The porcinis in the sauce could have been kicked up, I assume they were rehydrated, not fresh, but the overall mixture of jus, potatoes, mushrooms, and bacon was pretty darned tasty. The bacon was excellent. Very smoky.
I was tempted by several entrees. My first choice was the buffalo flank steak with creamed corn and mashed potatoes, $19. But since I'm trying to stay on the Atkin's diet as much as possible, and since I knew I'd be eating dessert, I chose another. The pan roasted quail with English peas and shallot and garlic confit, $16, also sounded very good, as did the grilled rib eye with grilled artichokes and Walla Walla onions, $19. But in order to test the kitchen, and because the side interested me, I chose the pepper crusted pork tenderloin with herb baked peaches, $16. I asked for the tenderloin to be cooked medium rare. I was tempted to say "and seared thoroughly" but there was no need. The outside of the tenderloin was nicely seasoned and browned. The inside was perfectly medium-rare. And, something that's very rare even at nice restaurants, it was fork tender. Quite good. The peaches were a little boring, just tossed in herbs and baked, but still good and a match for the pork.
None of the entrees were over $19. The one vegetarian option was $13. Most items were $16. Again, very reasonable prices for a restaurant of its caliber.
There were several tempting dessert options. We finally chose three to split between the two of us, one being the cheese course. At $6 the items on this cheese course would have cost me more to buy on my own. It was Sonoma dry jack, Mt. Tam, and Red Hawk cheeses with dried apricots, quince paste, and walnuts. There were also toasted walnut bread on the plate. This is the way a cheese course should be. There were probably 2-3 ozs of each of the quality cheeses on the plate, along with half a dozen or more pieces of dried apricot, a small pile of walnuts, two small bricks of quince paste, and the 4-6 pieces of toast. This is how a cheese course should be. Lots of opportunities to mix and match the nice flavors. The three cheeses were distinct, with the jack being a harder aged cheese, similar in flavor to an aged English cheddar. Then there was what appeared and tasted like a brie. And finally another creamy cheese with a bit of tang, maybe a sheep's or goat's milk cheese.
My wife got the chream cheese tart with blackberries and blackberry sauce, $6. Some of the blackberries were a bit tart due to under-ripeness, but I didn't find that off-putting because of the creamy deliciousness of the tart. It was an individual tart about an inch thick with the cream cheese filling. On top of that were piled blackberries and then shavings of white chocolate (I believe). Around it were the sauce and more blackberries. Very good.
I got the rocotta and pistachio cannoli with bing and ranier cherries, $6. There were three varying-sized cannolis standing straight up in the middle of the plate topped with crushed pistachios. Around them was the cherry sauce and the cherries, braised or poached. Very nice dessert. You had the crunchy exterior of the cannoli, the sweet, creamy interior, the earthy nuts, and the sweet/tart cherry sauce and cherries. All went together excellently and balanced each other. I could have had two. (btw, two cookies came with our check.)
I don't know if Fife competes with places like Wildwood and Paley's and Caprial's for depth of flavor and complexity of dishes. But I think they provide a good alternative when you're trying to save $10 or $15 per person. And what they do, they seem to do well. Also, we got very good service. When we first got there, there were more staff than customers. They did fill up by the time we left, but still my water never got even half empty. After the ribs, my waitress brought me a napkin soaked in warm water with some lemon. She also brought me a new napkin to exchange with my original one. I didn't have to ask. She just paid attention. Her name was Teresa. She had red hair and an interesting smile. Ask for her.
btw, from what our waitress said, they'll be closing down for a week. Have no idea why; I didn't ask. Afterwards they should have an almost entirely new menu. Same style, just by then new ingredients.
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