Thanks to all for your recommendations yesterday in my "Keller Auditorium" thread.
My first visit to Carafe was a pretty good one. I tried their "$20 for 3 courses" dinner; my wife got two appetizers.
First off, we ordered a bottle of Jurancon Sec. I'd read some local chefs talking about how underappreciated it is, and I'd been wanting to try it. We weren't disappointed. It's a simultaneously rich and light French white wine, with a refreshing acidity, and it was very tasty on its own and with food. (Anyone know where I can find it?) I loved it, but it also tuned out to be fairly potent. I had a little more than half of the bottle, and I floated across the street to the theater afterwards.
My first course was a single slice of baguette grilled in olive oil topped with tiny Oregon shrimp, shredded dungeness crab, minced red bell pepper, and one leaf of (I think) mache. Clean, mild, fresh-tasting flavor, nothing to write home about, but it whetted the appetite.
Second course was a spinach salad with a few candied walnuts in a very light, barely there lemony dressing. Kind of boring, but fresh and light. A few more ingredients would've helped liven it up.
Finally, the hanger steak & fries w/béarnaise sauce arrived. The fries were soft and squishy, with the meat placed on top. The steak had good flavor, but it was cooked beyond medium rare, rather dry, tough, and was a real workout to eat. No juice seeped through to the fries. This cut of meat requires tlc while cooking, and my dish seemed neglected. Knowing it's a Carafe signature, I definitely wouldn't get it again.
My dining partner got the soup of the day, a chilled, pureed cucumber & cream soup with a small pile of Oregon shrimp in the middle. She loved it; I didn't try it but it smelled intensely of cucumbers, which was interesting; I'd never thought much about how a cucumber smells.
Her second course was another appetizer, a bowl of mussels in a white wine broth. The mussels were plump, fresh, and excellent -- not a bad one in the batch. The broth was flavorful but quite salty on its own. A few slices of plain baguette dunked it in helped. (Salty or not, I can't pass up a good broth.)
My wife had been once before, and isn't much interested in returning. She feels that the food is overpriced for the flavors and execution, and doesn't find much on the menu to get excited about.
Even though I wasn't wowed with my meal, I'll try Carafe again. The service was friendly and knowledgeable. Sitting outside on a sunny day without the sun glaring in your eyes was lovely. The Jurancon Sec was a great surprise.
But mainly, I loved Pascal Sauton's cooking the one time I dined at Riverplace, and trust that there's something on the menu that will be a pleasant surprise. I'll skip the rather dull 3-for-$20 dinner, and probably make a meal from appetizers and starters next time.