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Restaurants & Bars 4

[PDX] Lauro...

Nick | Nov 14, 2003 01:46 AM

Went to Lauro for the first time tonight. What a pleasant neighborhood gem it is. Got second dessert at Pix across the street afterwards too. Couple of hogs, me and my wife, but very contented ones.

It's nice inside with high ceilings and attractive chic lighting, an open bar with a large mirror behind, huge windows to the street, soft benches facing comfortable chairs for most of the tables, and an open kitchen with seatings facing the wood oven as well.

I like the menu. The highest priced entree was $17. The highest priced appetizer was $8. Plus they have a -- what you might call -- blue collar section with pasta, pizza, and burgers, though the pizzas sound very interesting, things like Linguica and Roasted Peppers for $9. The highest priced item on this section was only $11. And I saw a pizza. It was probably about the size of a standard medium pizza, maybe 12" or more. Very fair price.

The back wall next to the bar is essentially a huge chalkboard. On one side of the doorway are specialty drinks, on the other are the appetizer and entree specials.

My wife ordered the "canja" chicken soup with rice, lemon, and mint ($5), a special of ahi tuna with Sardinian cous cous, tomatoes, and fennel topped by a green olive, caper, and lemon preserve relish ($16), and the pudim flan "Portuguese port custard" ($5). I had the crispy calamari with Portuguese piri piri sauce ($6), a special of boccacia rock fish with winter root-truffle oil puree topped by a chanterelle sauce ($15), and the Marsala poached pears with zabione ($5).

The soup was interesting and light. The chicken was tender and juicy and the flavors well-balanced. My wife really loved it. I could see it as a wonderful palate cleanser soup in between courses in a tasting menu. The ahi tuna was cooked perfectly, grilled nicely on the outside, rare in the middle. It had no off flavor whatsoever. It was a pretty big portion. I'd say at least 8 ozs. I like the large Sardinian cous cous that seems to be in vogue. It has substance and holds up to big flavors. There was an absolute ton of it on the plate coated with a tangy tomato sauce. The sauce didn't have much depth to it, but it was okay. The relish, however, was very good, a nice mix of briny, sweet, and tart that broght the fish alive. The flan was very good. I can't imagine something being more smooth and creamy. One of the best textures I think I've ever encountered. The flavors were somewhat muted, but had to be because you're essentially just getting one thing. There was no sauce, just a couple cookies along side. I would have preferred some texture variations and options, but I know this often happens with pot de cremes and the like. In its limited scope, though, it was excellent.

My calimari was probably the most disappointing item of the night and somewhat of a failure. The calamari themselves were way oversalted and I don't like the coating they use. It tastes almost processed, like they're coasted in ground Doritos or something. Maybe they toss them in salt and MSG. The sauce was good, though, a vinaigrette, really, with a little spice to it. If I had three times as much sauce I could have drowned out some of the salt (and I like more salt than many people). My fish was fantastic, though. It reminded me in many ways of monkfish it was so meaty and juicy. There was no off flavor at all. I'm hypersensitive to that and can't stand things like salmon or trout even when they're at their best often. The winter vegetables were really good and the truffle oil enhanced them perfectly. The chanterelle sauce had a nice rich flavor with large slices of sauteed chanterelles. The portions, again, were very generous. I liked my dessert better than my wifes. The pears had a nice firmness to them while still being able to be cut with a spoon. They weren't near as alcohol soaked as I expected, which was nice. That is often overdone. The zabione had a wonderful light creamy texture and came with two twisted flaky sticks that were fun to dip into the flavorful froth and then crunch. The desserts are simple, but good.

If I didn't have so many promising restaurants to visit in Portland, this is one I would definitely put on a rotation. I was very impressed and its a great value. The servers were very helpful in their recommendations, although I'm not sure if I could have gone wrong.

Afterwards, we got second dessert at Pix. (We were stuffed but our car was parked right in front of Pix and the dessert case in the window called to us.) Picked up a Tart Menage a Trois: almond cream, chocolate ganache, and orange vanilla bean creme brulee all piled into a butter tart shell for $5. Very good combination of flavors (we ate it later during our video rental, Legally Blond 2 -- the tart was much better than the movie).

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