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Restaurants & Bars 1

No Phooey for Fenouil

mczlaw | Oct 30, 200511:48 AM

Finally, it is open.

Tried Fenouoil last night with la nina. Gorgeous space. Unbelievable. Fireplaces, fancy furniture, lovely light fixtures, delightful dishware and flatware. Is there some kind of spending contest going on? GBT, Roux, Nostrana, now this place. Holy shit. These places will have to be full every night for five years just to turn the corner.

Chatted with the exec chef/co-owner, Pascal (last name forgotten), at some length, both early in the day when we wandered by to make sure it was finally open and to book a table, and when we were sitting at the counter next to the service window for our customary 5:30 reservation. A legion of servers and hosts and managers outnumbered guests for most, if not all, the two hours we were there. Plenty of cooks on the line, too, with ample time to chat.

This is a fine dining spot. Even I (one who hates to dress up) wouldn’t have felt quite right in standard Portland casual, i.e. jeans. Menu is tantalizing top to bottom. If I had to characterize it, I would say ultra high-end bistro. Yes, it’s a contradiction in terms, but that’s as close as I can get with a simple label.

I had the boar fillet. Gracie had the–-drumroll, please–-burger with fries. I also had a frisee/arugula/lardon salad; pommes frites with truffle oil (the latter addition means I can’t in good conscience call them french fries) and a taste of the french onion soup. The latter was a gift from the kitchen, not because I am special (though, of course, I am to some), but due to a timing error on service to another table.

The menu, in format only, bears a strong resemblance to the Carafe menu. The appetizer/small plate section is broken down into “chaud” and “froid” sub-parts. Then, there are all the mains; a section devoted to cheese; and another to sides. The separate dessert menu is unusual in that they are all in the $1 to $3 range and are just a bite or two each. A borrowing of a fine idea, one suspects, from Bar Pastiche.

I could quibble over some details, but I enjoyed every course. Extramsg may need to add this burger to his list of Portland’s best. It’s standard preparation is with foie gras, so leave your animal rights friends off the invitation list. Gracie ordered hers without the liver, but with cheddar cheese and otherwise plain. They nearly got it right. They found some cheddar, which is nonstandard, but (horrors) forgot to omit the tomato/lettuce. Simple surgery by dad solved this problem. The meat was pink-red, juicy and beefy tasting, served on grilled bread. With the foie, I am sure this dish would be spectacular. $18.

The boar, with a lush, roast-colored marrow jus, was unusual, yet simply presented on a pillow of thick-diced potatoes (with no veg, as if I care, though others might wonder). The inch-round fillets were cooked just as ordered, mid-rare. $29.

Thin-cut, skin on frites were crispy/mealy, perfectly salted and brought out hot. A 9.5 or better. The truffle-oiled side was $4.

The soup had a generous topping of cave-aged gruyere on its bread cap. Definitely a cut above the norm. The base is a half veal, half chicken stock. Onions were well roasted and abundant, but not an onion swamp. I don’t remember the price since I wasn’t charged.

We enjoyed the four desserts we tasted. If I had to bitch about something–and surely I must–it was that all the desserts seemed a bit fussy in their preparation. Nearly everything was boozed or fruited or unnecessarily gussied up. Thus, for example, the profiterole was presented with hazelnut ice cream instead of the standard vanilla. This isn’t much of a complaint, but I would probably have ordered the chocolate souffle if it DIDN’T include the chambord liqueur. You get the picture. Maybe it’s just me.

Next time I order cheese for dessert. With a choice of six or seven dairy delights, each a different style, that would be fun.

Tentative thumbs up for Fenouil. With its two-story, south-facing windows, summer visits ought to be great--not least to see how they fare fending off parents and their petite progeny from the pottyless adjacent park in need of a place to pee.

Fenouil is open 7 days, currently for dinner only. Lunch and weekend brunch coming in a couple weeks, I was told.


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