Friday, February 22, 2008

Tabla Bistro: fixed price = fixed smiles!

Getting value out of any one dish when you eat out isn't too difficult. Here in Portland a plate of the addictive of Penne alla Vodka at 3 Doors Down or the fabulous burger at Castagna Café always hit the sweet spot for under $15 a pop. But the all too rare multi-course, prix fixe meal, a standard offering in European restaurants, is sadly much harder to find. And when you do find one, getting real quality is even more difficult. That's why last night's dinner at Tabla Bistro was such a revelation. An American restaurant, thankfully about a five minute drive from our house, that serves three generous courses of real quality food, for a mere $24. Incredible!

w and I went last night and neither of us had been for a long time. In my case a couple of years at least. We arrived at 7:30 and were seated in their very comfortable, yet on this night sparsely populated, dining room. A couple of cocktails were ordered to get the party started...w ordered their Persephone, a fairly acceptable riff on a pomegranate cosmo, maybe a little heavy on the pomegranate juice. I had the Anna's Ginger Drop, which was stellar. A not shy dose of gin, ginger purée, and lemon juice that was both attention getting with that ginger snap and refreshingly balanced. Checking out the menu, how the 3-course deal works is you pick one item from three columns of offerings: a beginning, middle (a pasta selection), and entrée. There's something for everyone here, and w started with their radicchio salad (bottom at left) which was really well presented with a lightly creamy poppy seed dressing, comice pear, and a slice of Humboldt Fog cheese. I opted for their sweetbreads (top at left), which consisted nuggets of this glandular delight on top of a crostini, which was slightly over-toasted, surrounded by a pool of savory mushroom sauce. We were both smiling after these, especially knowing we still had two courses to go.

In anticipation of goodness to come, we had our very nice server pop the cork on a bottle of 1998 Sportoletti "Villa Fidalia" Reserva that I brought from home ($16 corkage fee). This was an Italian cab blend that was drinking absolutely perfectly, silky smooth, complex...very yummy! Tabla's wine list itself had some pretty good value going for it too, and seemed to have choices that would fit any budget, plus some nice by-the-glass choices.

Our "middle" dishes arrived shortly after. All their pastas are house made, and I had the rabbit ragu on tagliatelle that was delicious. w opted for their tajarin with truffle butter and grana padano. Now we were spoiled by the ethereal tajarins we had in the Piedmont of Italy last year and also the version made out at PDX's own Alba Osteria. The Tabla style was a bit disappointing. We would've liked to see the pasta cut a bit more thinly, and the truffle butter sauce tasted much too strongly of truffle oil, becoming almost bitter on the palate. The quality and cooking of both pastas was perfect though, not too done with a nice bit of al dente texture.

Then it was entrée time, and again we really were impressed. Again, very generous portions. Mine being their shredded boar shoulder (left) topped by a crusty slice of sautéed polenta with a just right sprinkle of blue cheese. Really succulent, with a slightly spicy sauce to counter the richness of the boar and polenta. w's plate of duck confit (below) was equally impressive, crispy on the outside, perfectly moist inside, served with chive mashed potatoes and a port poached orange. Duck confit is one of the great all-time food inventions, and the Tabla offering, again in the context of this 3-course meal, where sometimes expectations are lowered, was excellent.

After all that savory deliciousness, we had to have something sweet. And since we couldn't decide between the Panna Cotta with amarena cherries and the Carrot Cake made from local grower Gen Thiel's carrots, with walnut bits and a maple cream cheese frosting, we said the hell with it and had both. And both, I'm happy to say, were sweetly satisfying. The carrot cake was the standout and something we both would look forward to having again.

Bottom line, the only real miss was the tajarin. Overall this was an excellent night out, and for just $24 each for the first three courses, it has to be one of the most incredible restaurant dining values in town.
E.D.T. Rating (out of 4): Food-3.0; Value-4

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