Thanks to this board I was well-prepared for my first visit to Portland and Eugene, currently in progress. I wanted to post about some of my experiences so far while they are still fresh. To date, I have dined at the Heathman, Wildwood, Zenon (twice), Cafe Soriah, and the tamale and afghani stands at the Eugene farmer's market. Have also patronized Allan's coffee in Eugene, the Sunrise (set?) health food store and wine shop. Memory and schedule willing I hope to post on all of these but:
In particular, I must draw your attention to an extraordinary experience at Heathman's, where my friend and I dined on Wednesday evening (the day Anthony Bourdain's review was published in the NYT). I had made reservations at Wildwood, Higgins, and The Heathman, but because Wildwood's kitchen closes at 9 pm (!) and we weren't out the door of our downtown hotel until half eight, we cancelled that and decided to decide between Higgins & the Heathman. First, though, I wanted to check out the recommended Oregon wine bar across the street, and was more than a little surprised to find it closed. People must start drinking early in Portland to finish up so soon. Higgins's list of wines by the glass was neither as interesting nor as regional as I would have liked, so we decided on both drinks and dinner at the Heathman. This would have been my first choice anyway, because of recommendations from friends and the article too-- I was salivating over the photograph of sweetbreads and morels on the flight in. Sadly, my friend doesn't much care for the nasty bits, so the unfortunate circumstances where the other venues were concerned were actually fortuitous in a way, from my perspective.
We started in the bar, I with a glass of Argyle sparkling wine and my friend with an IPA on tap. I asked the waitress for Higgins's number to cancel the res. (the one I'd printed out wasn't working) and she said she would be glad to have the hostess take care of it. In part because of the casual atmosphere, I was especially surprised and pleased by this thoughtful, professional gesture.
I wanted oysters, but had questions about the list, which included kumamotos (which I love), Fanny Bays (which bore me), something that was described as belon-ish (to my humiliation, I gag on belons), and a few others-- I think Totten Creek? Hood Island? Totten Island and Hood Creek? and something else-- about which I knew nothing. I asked the waitress if she could tell me about them and in response she waylaid the chef de cuisine who was passing by. I put my questions to him, and while he was impeccable on the geography and growing methods of each, was not able to respond to my basic questions about salinity, minerality, sweetness-- essentially, flavor. That was a bit surprising but ok by me-- it only became significant in retrospect. In the course of our conversation we asked what the response had been so far to the article (nothing so far) and mentioned that we had just arrived from LA and were excited to be dining at a restaurant so highly recommended by Anthony Bourdain, not least because we'd both been Les Halles fans from years ago.
The chef (I think his name is Karl?) recommended the Lange pinot gris and added extra kumamotos to my order, which was fresh and delicious. He also brought a plate of head cheese with coarse mustard and cornichons. It was actually the first time I'd had head cheese and while it was good, except for the crunchy bits (I don't like cartilege), I do have a (perhaps irrational?) fear of brain food (bovine spongiform encepalopathy and all), so I kind of just picked. He closed his eyes and thought of England.
We moved into the dining room. He started with roasted? asparagus wrapped in serrano ham, and I with a mixed green salad with shaved porcinis and parmesan. Both were good; he noted that the ham was stronger-- maybe gamier, maybe even grilled?-- than the jamon serrano he'd had before.
For the main course, I ordered the sweetbreads, natch, with a side of mushroom bread salad (I have had my mind on the morels at Craft for weeks); and he ordered the leg of lamb, medium, served with pommes gaufrettes and garlic chive flan.
As we wait for our entrees, the manager approaches and we discuss our current visit to Oregon and ask his suggestions for wineries to visit and so on. Pleasant conversation, and he is very helpful.
The sweetbreads, while generous, were overcooked and dull, with a bit of green rice (not exactly the risotto depicted in the illustration in the Times). No morels (I'd pored over the recipe, and this was a grave disappointment). His lamb was overcooked to my eyes and of course medium,as he requested, is way too well done but this was really well-done. He thought it was terrific, though, and beautifully aromatic (thyme and rosemary, he thinks). I was drooling over the flan and asked a second waiter for an order which he brought promptly. So I'm making my way through it all and sink my fork into the flan which I think is awfully stiff and maybe could it have been frozen and not quite thawed? and i put it in my mouth and so help me spit it out into my napkin which I have never done (or I've repressed and will continue to deny the memory). Almost instantaneously waiter number 1 appeared with a new napkin (mortification!) and amid my apologies I ask if my herb butter might be replaced by a flan. Waiter no. 2 appears to apologize for the error and offer the flan which will take another 15 minutes. I decline and we conclude our meal and ask for the check and waiter no. 1 returns with the denouement: 'I have taken care of this'. I laugh and then see he is serious and we both begin to protest. No, he says, we have discussed this. You came here from Los Angeles, you were not happy with the food, we want to do this.
Now, while we settled the oyster and bar bill separately, we also had two glasses of pinot noir (a beaux freres and a bergstrom) with our dinner. The check he brings comps everything.
Such a thing has never happened to me before, and surely never with as little cause. Whatever the stumbles, we were utterly satisfied with our experience. We thanked them profusely, and tipped 3/4s the amount of the entire check.
I just had to write this long post to compliment these folks on their great food and wine, and profound hospitality. I have been to many greater and lesser restaurants where some adjustment or acknowledgment would have been better-earned. Dinner at the Heathman left me well-served, touched, and impressed.