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Seco is Okay

Will Owen | Feb 1, 201408:53 PM

There was some lukewarm CH chat about this place, another example of Smith Bros' fiddling and re-branding (Crocodile Cafe, Cafe 140) until they find a sweet spot. That can get wearisome, especially if you liked the previous version (Le Cheval Blanc was FINE, dammit!), but then it's not our investment. Anyway, Mrs. O had asked me to pick a spot for my birthday dinner Thursday night, and I happened to park in front of this that morning and thought it looked inviting, so I looked up the menu online. I was intrigued to see that though the menu is much more formal-looking than Smitty's, their joint next door, the prices are a bit friendlier. And although the overall choices are fewer the vegetarian possibilities are a bit more plentiful. So Mrs. O made reservations for 8:15.

It was a bit louder than our favorites tend to be, but we got a nice cozy window table at the back, and shortly thereafter some cocktails. MO homed in on the Smoked Lavender Gimlet, and it was indeed a stunning confection; I got a bit fancy with my martini order and it was met perfectly, too. Our server and all of her supporting cast in the meantime were effortlessly comfortable in their roles, diligent and friendly, making us feel perfectly at home.

As we tend to do we lingered with the cocktails for a while before getting into the menu. I'd already decided on the culotte steak, with a glass of the Oregon "Rainstorm" Pinot Noir. MO was intrigued by the Pizza Bianca, wondering how well chopped leeks would do on a cheese pizza, so she ordered it just to see. Well, the cheese was a billow of rich cheesiness and the leeks were exactly what it needed, though it was all so very rich she took half of it home. As for mine, the steak had been flame-grilled at a higher temperature than I would have chosen for such a lean cut, and though red in the middle was quite dry. The accompanying new potatoes were underseasoned, though perfectly cooked, and the promised chard was more a garnish than a serving. Some butter would have been welcome.

Around this time a tall, lean gentleman came to the table and asked us how we liked everything. MO assumed he was a manager, and said we were enjoying ourselves very much, whereupon he introduced himself as one of the Smiths. She then thanked him and their organization for their strong support of our local Humane Society, our favorite Public Work, and then after a bit more friendly chat he bought her another gimlet, brought it to her, and departed.

What with all of this, plus the insanely brilliant Meyer Lemon Custard dessert (with pistachio ice cream, ginger wafers and black raspberries in syrup), we were pretty well won over. Now that I've gotten the culotte steak ($29!!) out of my system I can try the lower-hanging bits of the menu, while Mrs. O will be loyal to the Smoked Lavender Gimlet until they decide it's time to do something else. And if this sounds like the Owen Kids have found another local hangout, despite their not-always love for the Smiths' kind of restaurant, you would be correct.

I didn't see the tab, since I was being treated, but I've figured that my meal came to $57 before tax, so we're looking at around $100 + tip for two. That's about double our usual dinner out, but if we both graze at the lower end we can cut it a bit. It's still an uncommonly welcoming place, much more so than Cheval (though a lot louder), and we're looking forward to return engagements.

Smitty's Grill
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