This place gets my vote for most underrated restaurant in town (with the Daily Cafe a close second). It seems to be known more as an after-work watering hole than as a fine dining establishment; it is rarely mentioned in the same breath with places like Higgins, Bluehour, Park Kitchen, et al. Well, it deserves to be.
Last night I went with a group of six and everything brought to the table was just about perfect, starting with a heaping plate of Country Brown bread from Ken's Artisan Bakery (no charge). The appetizer plates are enormous and could easily comprise a meal for one person; at $9-$12, they represent outstanding value. I had grilled pizza with assorted Italian meats. The plate consisted of 4 or 5 fairly large hunks of pizza that would have been all I needed to eat if I was not so damn hungry. The dough was crispy and almost pastry-like, not your typical pizza dough. It was topped with some very fresh cheese (not sure what kind, but it was not mozzarella) and some terrific, thin slices of meat. All for $10. Others ordered some old favorites: duck confit spring rolls with a wasabi cream sauce (terrific, and a large portion for about $8) and the seafood stew (filled with chunks of salmon, squid, clams and fingerling potatoes in a to-die-for broth; $12, and the perfect size for two to split as a starter course).
The main courses didn't disappoint, either. I had the double-cut Carlton Pork Chop, cooked perfectly medium rare, served with the best polenta I've ever had and a delicious spinach, pine nut and pepper agridolce ($18). Others had Monkfish Picatta (delicate and wonderful), roasted chicken (the portion, for $18, included half a chicken and was just about the best rendition of this classic dish that I've ever had), and grilled NY Strip steak served with truffle butter. I generally don't order steak in restaurants because it's one fo the few things I figure I can do almost as well at home, but this steak proved me wrong; it was cooked perfectly medium rare and for reasons that I can't pinpoint, was just plain more delicious that than any steak I've ever made.
We were so full that we ordered only one dessert: a nearly perfect chocolate souffle.
I should also mention that the VQ is a strong rival for best wine list in Portland. They have about 40 wines available by the glass (and the glass pours they give you are big; at least 1/6th of a bottle) and a diverse and fairly priced list of available bottles. I started with an excellent glass of Edmunds St. John Robles Viejos white (a blend of roussane and viognier). We also had two bottles of A. Clape 2001 Cornas "Renaissance", a fantastic syrah that's drinking surprisingly well right now. This wine was a steal at $50/bottle, barely more that the retail price.
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