Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Eating Portland: Beaker and Flask

Hard to believe it's been so long since I've written up a restaurant visit. Of course it's also hard to believe the C-boy is four months old. Even harder to believe that last night was the first time we went out without him. Talk about needing to get our freaking lives in order! So last night, to celebrate the onset of babysitting and our anniversary, w and I made a beeline to the much-missed Beaker and Flask here in PDX. If you're a parent you'll get this, and if you're not you'll think "dude, that is SO pathetic", but walking in to B&F without having to worry about a possible baby meltdown was so nice. Sitting at the bar, where we used to love to sit pre-baby..."sniff-sniff"...was also pretty damn nice. Greeted most warmly by owner Kevin Ludwig, we couldn't wait to get our night started. A glass of prosecco was quickly ordered for w, and I told our bartender Michael Shea to make me anything he wanted to as long as it contained a healthy dose of gin. When you have the caliber of mix-masters behind the bar that Ludwig does, I'm always happy to put myself in their spirit soaked hands. I always know at B&F, where cocktails are taken with the proper seriousness, that I would be drinking well, and when I saw the beautifully delicious looking Bronx cocktail (upper left) set down gently in front of me I was not disappointed. The Bronx is a classic from the very old school. I've made them at home and love them. So with that important task taken care of, we checked out the menu and as always were impressed with the number of dishes that sounded so good.

Decisions had to made, so we settled on starters of the Grilled Pork Tongue (left) with asparagus and green garlic cream; Fried Baby Eel with smoked paprika aioli; and the Cabbage Roll with mushrooms, caramelized onions, lentil salad, and mustard. The restaurant wasn't too full so the dishes came out quickly, which was a good thing as the gin was already grabbing my head. All three were standout. The pork tongue was fabulous. I'm not a big tongue guy, having been frightened by the disturbingly hulking cow tongues I used to see wrapped in cellophane in too many meat markets. The B&F versions alleviated any squeamishness and was super tender with a nice meaty texture, and the perfectly crunchy-tender asparagus and sensuously silky garlic cream were a perfect match. The fried baby eel was basically a fried calamari-like plate with the more fishy eel in place of squid. Very good, but it's assertive taste may not be for everyone. w was not as into it as I was. Then there is the cabbage roll (below left). "Cabbage roll". For something that sounds so humble, this was an incredible creation. Looking like a greenish pudding set atop lentils, the cabbage as stuffed with mushrooms and onions and provided an earthy, richly flavored mouthful with every bite. The lentils had the just right bite, and the whole dish was held together by a light application of mustard mixed around the edges. A great beginning, and if you find yourself at B&F anytime soon, the cabbage and pork tongue are must have apps!

Kevin popped the cork on a bottle of 2005 Brick House Gamay Noir from my basement I brought along to have with dinner, and while we delighted in each rich sip we pondered main dishes to come. w has a hard time passing up razor clams, so her choice was made by the Fried Razor Clams with potatoes, octopus, candied orange peel, and aioli. I was torn between pork and fish, but since I've been on a bit of a meat binge at home lately I decided that the Pan Seared Halibut with carrot purée, English peas, radish, bay shrimp, and sweet herb crème fraîche. Sound good? FYI, the word to describe my plate of fish was "freakish". Each bite provided an "Oh my god" moment. Uber-seasonal, the sweet carrot puree and English peas were amazing, then to add in shrimp and the herb crème fraîche sent this off to a wonderland of sensory overload. I don't eat too many truly inspired plates of food. This was one of them! I am always impressed with chef Ben Bettinger's witchcraft in the B&F kitchen. This only confirmed that this guys skill set is right at the top of the PDX heap. And of course w's razor clams, which came stacked in most generous portion, were also excellent. Lightly battered and fried to a toothsome bite ("toothsome" very 1960's of me), a smear of aioli on top (ask for an extra side of'll want it) with seasoned spuds and bits of baby octopus to make sure you aren't cheated in the flavor department, which isn't ever a problem at B&F. BTW-no pics of mains. Dark light and all we had was our iPhones.

Being very full and getting sleepy...our perpetual post-10pm state these days...we blamed out by not ordering dessert, and on the way home I was already kicking myself for not ordering the Panna Cotta with beignets and huckleberry sauce. But whose life isn't lived with some regret? In any event, this was another evening well spent. We were reminiscing with Kevin about how two years ago while he jumping through his endless series of hoops trying to get B&F open, that he actually bartended at our wedding (and don't think that wasn't off the hook!) and we were shaking our heads at how much all of our lives had changed. Us with a sweet new baby, and Kevin having a one-year old of his own in Beaker and Flask. Both things trying and rewarding at the same time. now he's running a successful restaurant, getting national press (the latest two mentions in the new issue of Food & Wine), exceeding everyone's expectations (except I'm sure his own) and having what I consider one of the top 4 or 5 dining experiences in town!


Nico said...

I keep wanting to go to B&F, I still can't believe we haven't gone yet! Thanks for the review & reminder!

It's good to have your posts back!

Kevin Ludwig said...

Thanks Bruce,
Always a pleasure to see you and, yes, I can't believe it's been 2 years since that great day in May. Cheers, and Happy Anniversary. BTW, very sharp argyle sweater last night.
Take care,

bb said...'ve got to check it out. And it's nice to be able to get out again. Thanks!

KL....thanks, in all sorts of ways. Glad you liked the sweater. From your fashionista-trained eye that means something!

Ouroboros said...

I was there Tuesday evening. And had the beignets. They were excellent (as was everything else).

Michael Shea said...

Thanks for the kind words on the cocktail!

Neil A said...

Bruce, great review. I too cannot believe I have not been there yet. Need to do it soon.

BTW, any recommendations on restaurant guide books for Portland?

There does not appear to be a Zagat for Portland...

bb said...

Ouro...That didn't help my mood. glad someone enjoyed it!

MS...Thank you!!

Neil...You gotta go. And I don't know of any reliable guide. You can always check urbanspoon or yelp. That's not too bad a way to go.

miriam510 said...

I had the same halibut dish for my 30th birthday dinner @ B & F a few weeks ago- it was absolutly perfect. Spring on a plate. Drinks were amazing as usual too. I love these guys!

bb said...

miriam....I was raving about that halibut to someone last night. glad you can confirm its goodness! happy late birthday, too!