Thursday, December 06, 2007

Jumping through the Hula hoop!

Being a man who's appetite and attention span are on opposite ends on the unlimited/limited scale, I find myself looking for new edible diversions on a disturbingly regular basis. Here in Portland, thankfully, there are seemingly new restaurants opening every few weeks. Lovely Hula Hands isn't one of them. However it is one of those places that has been on my list ever since it moved from its old location on burgeoning North Mississippi Avenue, brought in a new chef (Troy McClarty), and apparently has been packing them in since. So last Saturday, with the encouragement of friends and fellow appetite enablers J&K, w and I made the pilgrimage.

But first, as with any good meal, the appetite needed a bit of priming, so we met at Mint for a pre-prandial drink at this icon of the Portland drink scene. Much to our concern, Mint was closed for a private party, but we did make it into their neighboring sister bar 820, which shares a kitchen and connecting door with Mint. My wanting to meet at Mint did have ulterior motives beyond satisfying my cocktail lust. I had heard from several friends about their Kobe beef burger, so I thought along with our beverages we could all share one and see for ourselves. Cut into four pieces, it made a perfect entrée cum appetizer. The burger itself? Good, but still not coming close to the paragon that is the Castagna Café burger (although the accompanying sweet potato fries were excellent). Ah, well, the search goes on. As for 820 itself, it very much has that be-there-to-be-seen feel, but I usually find a bar with long lists of signature cocktails a little too "trying too hard to be cool". It goes against my old school martini traditionalist thing. Also as w said, the crowd there seems very "B & T"...that's bridge and tunnel for the uninitiated.

So it was on to Lovely Hula Hands, where you walk into their warmly lit downstairs dining room (pictured above). I really like their space....a few cozy tables downstairs, a few more upstairs where we were seated. The snack at 820 only whetted our appetites, so we jumped right in with starters of Belgian Endive Salad with persimmons (seemingly the ingredient du jour at almost every restaurant); Cream of Sunchoke Soup with pancetta, apples,, and sage; and an order of Dungeness Crab Cakes. All three were delicious, but when the crab cakes came out, though tasty, we were somewhat surprised to see two tiny discs about the size of a half dollar each. For ten bucks I would have at least liked a dollar fifty size portion. We washed down these beginnings with a crisply delicious bottle of 2005 Touraine-Mesland Blanc from the Loire Valley. This Frenchie sauv blanc is the deal off their white list at $27 a pop.

For entrees w and K had the Pan-Fried Scallops with a celery root and hedgehog mushroom risotto. The scallops were perfectly cooked, the risotto had the requisite bite and savory mushroom-ey goodness. J had their Linguine with Manila Clams, pork sausage, tomatoes, and garlic. This was really good, briny, fresh, with a favorite combo of mine, seafood and pork products! I opted, thankfully, for their killer Cascade Natural Beef Short Ribs with pears, mashed potatoes, garlicky chard, and horseradish cream. This was awesome, the short ribs fall off the bone tender. I loved each meaty bite, and the pears and horseradish cream an interesting and delicious accompaniment. For drinking fun I had brought along a 2002 Maurice Ecard Savigny-Les-Beaune "Jarrons", a single vineyard premier cru red Burgundy that once again shows why the French know pinot noir like nobody else. Young, elegant, velvety, a paragon of pinot, and crying out for about 2 to 3 more years in the cellar.

Even though we were careening toward the food wall, and w had already hit it, how could we not have dessert? Twenty minutes later, with their just okay Chocolate Panna Cotta with amarena cherries and a fabulously decadent Sticky Date Pudding with toffee sauce that had us swooning, under our belts, even with w rallying from her food coma to help, and with two glasses of the perfect fizzy goodness that is Moscato d'Asti, we had all crashed, satisfyingly, at the end of this food road.

All in all, I would definitely look forward to a return visit. The food overall was very good, the room comfy, the service maybe a bit distracted but nothing that would keep me away. Another dining option to anticipate.....excellent!!

picture above from Portland Mercury

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