Monday, October 24, 2011

Oregon Keg Wine is Alive in Portland's Slabtown!

As we located a prime parking spot near the address of where the restaurant was supposed to be, I remarked on the lack of signage to my friend Robert, saying, “I guess you have to just know where it is… it’s so New York”. To which he added, “Yeah, New York five minutes ago.” I felt like I'd heard that before recently. Having just come from the fabulous grand opening of the highly recommended Springbox Art Gallery in NW Portland, my friend and I, ready for our next round of entertainment, set out for the elusive The Bent Brick with one lofty goal, to sample absolutely everything on the menu.

How many times have you looked at a menu, unable to decide what to order because everything was so equally tempting? Imagine looking at that very same menu and then turning to your waiter and saying, “I’d like to order everything on the menu please.” Well, that’s what we did, because for just $48 per person, you can “Eat the Whole Menu.” Though we ordered it just for one, it was still way more food than even two hungry people really could or needed to eat in one sitting… and it sure was fun. A scene from the movie When Harry Met Sally came to mind, when Sally's friend Marie quotes Harry's friend Jess to him by saying "Restaurants are to people in the 80's what theater was to people in the 60's." Thirty years later and restaurants are still much like theater, providing an entire evening of worthwhile entertainment, or perhaps I'm just stuck in the 80's.

One part chic restaurant, one part casual tavern, two parts remarkable establishment, The Bent Brick opened about three months ago in Portland’s old industrial Slabtown district. There are several stories behind how this district got its name. One of the kinder, gentler ones, as told by The Bent Brick's General Manager Anna Josephson, is that long ago when the area was part of the city’s wood processing district, people would come out to pick up the discarded scraps of wood (or “slabs” as they were called) to use for firewood, etc. Another urban legend is that if one frequented that rough part of town, which went from Old Town up to the Pearl back in the day, you would end up like a slab or in a slab, or something like that. Paying homage to the Slabtown history, the Bent Brick has incorporated slabs of wood (not bodies) into their urban d├ęcor, particularly in the Jenga Lounge, which is perfect for a large group to take over, or for smaller groups to mingle at in a community fashion when the tables are full or for a more intimate setting. With roll-up garage-style doors, sleek metal seating and lots of old exposed brick and pipes, the restaurant has done an admirable job of incorporating the building’s history with contemporary touches ultimately achieving a striking balance of comfort and excitement.

Scott Dolich, chef and owner, has a clear vision for The Bent Brick, an offshoot of Park Kitchen: to focus on investigating stylistic choices while using only domestic ingredients… everything is sourced as locally as possible. Neither the kitchen nor the bar uses a single imported product, and not just their pepper and pigs, they don’t overlook where their dry goods come from either and make many of their own products like vinegars and syrups themselves. You won’t find olive oil in their kitchen as the domestic versions are too expensive, but Chef Dolich has found a way around that, roasting domestic canola oil to develop more complex flavors.

I’d met Chef Dolich initially at a Raptor Ridge Winery #ReTweet (more on that to come in the next post or so) and was impressed when I heard him eloquently say, “As you eat through a meal, sometimes you have to have periodic knocks in the head to wake you up”. This might actually sum up my relationship with food, wine and dining out: Perhaps I just really enjoy being knocked in the head, so to speak.

So, on the prowl for knocks and wake up calls, my friend and I devoured mussels on the half shell with smoky aioli and a Tabasco mignonette (though the photo is of a whole order, we only had one little tasty mussel to sample), fried cheese curds with fried applesauce (for the Gluten-free eaters who still love fried food), crab with Louie sauce, cucumbers, grapes and lucky four-leaf clovers and a fascinating dish of braised sunflowers seeds, peppers, cheddar cheese and hickory which tasted oddly but interestingly like a savory sunflower seed oatmeal.

 Dolich expressed that “Each dish should have a reference point, not just be a dish that tastes good”, so, we also enjoyed a beet and faro salad with seeded crisps inspired by a simple everything bagel, crispy pork rinds, an amazing tomatillo gazpacho serving elegantly as a bed for a tasty scoop of Padron pepper gelato, Virginia ham rillettes, a shrimp, corn, tomato and coriander salad and sweetbreads with cabbage, horseradish, dill, bacon. By the time the roast and braised dishes arrived at the table (a pork with root beer glaze and perfectly pink beef with smoke, onions and potatoes), I was beyond just loosening the button on my pants and felt like I might just possibly explode. Unable to let even one more morsel of food pass my supremely satisfied lips, I unbelievably passed on the main courses and then just stared at the dessert dishes too, taking pleasure in watching my friend Robert enjoy them… alone.

While the food the kitchen presents is impressive, healthy, a bit surprising and inspired, those qualities are conveyed in the bar as well. 100-percent domestic, between the list of attention-grabbing cocktails and out-of-the-ordinary local wines, knocks in the head are virtually around every corner. Their keg wine program is actually what first caught my attention. With 15 Oregon and Washington wines on tap at one time, The Bent Brick passes the savings on to their consumers allowing them to enjoy glasses of the best current release wines from regional vintners like Patricia Green, Grochau Cellars, J Daan, Viento and Andrew Rich, just to name a few, for an implausibly low $5-$9 a glass.

The bar also offers a selection of local and domestic beers and features cocktails like the Path to Victory: a warming blend of Cana’s Feast Chinato, bourbon, gingersnap, bitters and vinegar or the Lakeside: a lovely and refreshing mix of vodka, rhubarb, verjus and elderflower. With a generous Happy Hour and a Half from 5:00-6:30pm, Tuesday through Saturday, guests will enjoy fine wine (by the glass or carafe), beer (by the glass, bottle or pitcher), cocktails and food specials that will wake up the palate without breaking the bank.

Though I failed in my attempt to actually “Eat the Whole Menu”, now I do have a reason to go back… other than just because it might be one of my favorite new hangouts. Discover The Bent Brick for yourself at 1639 NW Marshall St., join them on Facebook and Twitter, contact them at or call (503) 688-1655 for reservations and more information.


Portland Charcuterie Project said...

great writeup! This has been on our "to -do " list since it opened and thanks to you has now moved up to our next date night

Nubian said...

On our must visit list. Thank you.