I loved Buckman, the bistro that share's William's kitchen, so I decided to give William's a try. It's quite good as well. It's clearly upscale from Buckman with prices for entrees in the $20-$25 range mostly, a menu that regularly changes, and a more elegant setting. I think they earn the higher prices, though.
My wife chose the baked brie ($8), pan seared halibut ($25), and the pumpkin cake ($6). I had the pate de maison ($8), double chop ($24), and the caramel-nut-chocolate tart ($7).
They started us with an amuse of potato salad. It was a fingerling potato salad with, I believe, a hint of fennel and possibly even an accent of orange or something slightly fruity. Hard to tell. It was good, though, and more interesting than most potato salads.
My wife's brie was tasty. That brown sugar adds a sweet, molassesy sauce, and of course it went great with the granny smith apple slices. I enjoyed my pate a lot, too. It was more solid than I expected and had a good flavor. There were chunks of dried fig that added a nice deep sweetness to the pate. It was served with cornichons, two kinds of mustard, julienned onion, some lightly dressed greens, and some other little bits. Both appetizers were served with sliced baguette.
They surprised us with another free course, a soup. And what a great soup -- cauliflower-apple. Yum. It had this tangy aspect, probably from the cauliflower, but also a sweet-tart aspect, probably from the apple. It was a unique flavor well-balanced. You could both taste and not taste the apple and cauliflower because it was so well balanced. I thought there might be cheese in the soup as well, but only half and half. It was very smooth and a perfect consistency. It was a full-sized bowl, too.
My wife's pan seared halibut had a very sweet flesh, I thought and no off flavor whatsoever. It was served uptop very smooth mashed potatoes and a sautee of porcinis and chanterelles. The saute of mushrooms was a little soft for me, but that's somewhat typical with French cooking. The portion size was generous and my wife couldn't finish it all. My grilled Carlton double chop was delicious also. It came with a winter vegetable ragout which included carrots, fennel bulb, turnips, I believe, and some others. The chop was served with a dried fruit sauce, a light sauce punctuated by pieces of dried fruit that had been refreshed. The chop had a bit of a sweet and crispy exterior and was cooked just as I had asked on the inside. It wasn't fork tender, but it was tender and juicy enough. I would have liked the outside to be seared more aggressively, but it was still good.
My wife's pumpkin chiffon cake was served with a white chocolate and molasses sauce. It wasn't dry at all and was a little denser than expected. It was a simple, but elegant dessert with decent flavor. My tart wa a layer of caramel, covered by a layer of whole hazelnuts, covered with a layer of rich ganache. It was served with a chantilly cream sauce that did a good job of managing the bold chocolate and caramel flavors. Another simple, but elegant dessert.
None of the dishes were mind-blowing, but they were all very good. The real delight, though, were the little extras, an amuse (something sorely lacking from most Portland restaurants), a free soup course, water, on the house, from a bottle rather than the tap, a knowledgeable waiter (both of the recommendations he gave me were the lower cost of the choices I selected, even), and the room. The room is decorated in numerous oil paitings with pre-20th century style frames, bulky and golden. The silve, china, and chairs look like something you'd find at a wealthy French grandmother's estate, somewhat ornate dark wood with interesting fabrics.
We enjoyed our meal and came away stuffed. The one thing that's a little unfortunate is that the kitchen is on the William's side rather than the Buckman side. Well, another unfortunate thing for them, not for us, was that they didn't have any reservations until 7 pm on a Thursday. My wife and I walked in at 5:30 pm and didn't see another person even when we had left. Good for them that Buckman was jammed and even had people waiting outside.
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