Meriwether's logoApproximately 2.5 years ago Meriwethers NW moved into the dormant space that had housed the well acclaimed French restaurant L’Auberge for quite a few years. I never really heard exactly what doomed L’Auberge, but the neighborhood had to have something to do with it. The environs surrounding Montgomery Park have always been an industrial wasteland, and while I’m certain that when Mongomery Park is full of exhibitors upper NW Vaughn is a jumping place, at other times it seems like a ghost town, despite the new development that has taken place in the last few years. Just to venture a block North for parking is like entering a long ago industrial twighlight zone (well, at least Jody found the parking lot.)

I remember when Meriwethers opened, it was slightly after ClarkLewis made its debut, and I couldn’t help but wonder why all these upscale restaurants were picking these rather hokey NW historical names. As I could tell by the first review I ever read on the place, it wasn’t exactly cheap, and the menu seemed to lack any ethnic originality that would make it any different from all these expensive NW regional places we have here, so I wasn’t exactly drawn to it. One evening, a little over two years ago, however, a friend and I had eaten at the heavy duty Industial Cafe which is kitty corner from there, and decided after looking at a drink menu posted outside to venture in for a cocktail. The drink was certainly tasty (and expensive, too,) but the bar, like all parts of Meriwethers, struck me as a beautiful space which I would like to visit again.

A month of so after that I visited there with a small group for breakfast, and thoughly enjoyed the craftsman style dining room with the beautiful sage walls, tons of light, and stained glass windows. The breakfast was good enough, your typical upscale breakfast where you pay $5.00 for a bowl of homemade granola (I think they actually sell it somewhere,) and then they try to charge you additional for the milk on top. In the interim I’ve read an occasional story referencing Meriwethers, but never any glowing reviews. Recently, however, both the Oregonian and Willamette Week have come out with largely promising reviews, mainly based on the fact that Tommy Habetz, one of Portland’s hotest young chefs, had taken over the kitchen after the financial meltdown of the Gotham Tavern. The word was that Tommy was turning out some incredibly flavorful rustic meat dishes, and finally pulling Meriwethers NW up to a level of cuisine this lovely building demanded.

So off we went to Meriwethers on a nice spring evening, myself and my expectant eight co-diners. After a not too unpleasant wait in the bar while our table was being made ready, we were shown to our table in the largely empty sunken dining room. Actually, the fact that the dining room wasn’t overly populated seemed a somewhat disturbing trend for the entire evening, this is a relatively large place, and it was never more than half full. As Meriwether’s space has one of the most famous patios in Portland, however, we basically shrugged it off as that, the allure of the outdoors (although a weenie like me needs it to be at least 10 degrees warmer before I am happy eating outside.)

As one of our party was a tad late (the old 6:45/8:30 reservation confusion,) we contented ourselves with cocktails (mine was a really good gin and cherry thing called an Aviator,) beers, and wine (white was the trend for the evening, Reislings predominating, and all at least $9.00 per glass, although they were decent sized pours.) We enjoyed the wonderful ambience of the 20’s dining space, and contemplated the mulitude of interesting sounding starters, Moby Dick Oysters to me being the most intriquing sounding (although not intriquing enough for me to order them, as my attention was drawn away by the lure of the garlic soup, a hearty starter rarely seen in these parts, but which I had enjoyed several years ago while dining in the scary historical environs of the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, where many of those delightful executions connected to the Spanish Inquisistion had taken place.)

Two of us decided we couldn’t live without partaking of the garlic soup, and everyone at the table stared with envy at our gigantic, creamy portions drizzled with a smattering of olive oil. As I believe garlic soup is supposed to be, it was mild and smooth, and it would have made an adequate meal on its own accompanied by the house focaccia (although I found the house olive oil a tad biting.) Three of my co-eaters found the allure of the elusive house special, foie gras, too much for them to resist, although my general observation was that all three found the preparation rather alarming, seared and somewhat runny inside. None of the comments pertaining to the foie gras made me wish I had overcome my foie gras phobia, rare and yellowy inside just not sounding that mouth watering to me. And of the three people who ordered it, I certainly didn’t hear any of them proclaim, “Oh, I’m so glad I spent $22.00 on that.” (the same amount as my entree.)

Other selected starters included a nice looking ceasar salad, a yummy asparagus with hollandaise sauce, and an extremely hearty portion of smoked trout salad (you can take the outdoors woman out of the outdoors, but not the outdoors out of the outdoors woman.)

Although Meriwethers is anything but cheap, they do offer several more wallet friendly options when it comes to their pasta dishes, most or all being served in small or dinner sized portions. As most of the servings at Meriwethers were on the larger side anyway, when pared with a somewhat hearty starter, the small servings of pasta were plenty adequate to finish off any appetite. Tori, having experienced the rather filling looking smoked trout salad, selected as her main dish the smaller portion of Friday’s special pasta, Papardelle with English peas, prosciutto, and mint. Here’s a summation of her comments, “a delightful, fresh combination… with peas so fresh, as in fresh out of the pod, they were nearly uncooked.” She said she liked the combination so much she would later request of her spouse a recreation at home, this time with one of them actually cooking the peas. So a big yes for pasta with peas, prosciutto, and mint, and a small no for hard peas. (Oh, and by the way Dr. T., English Peas are a variety, not a port of origin.)

Christina, having had a gigantic bowl of the onion soup like myself, selected the smaller portion of the goat cheese ravioli, and had nothing but praise for the preparation. Other lighter main courses were a beet salad with Arugula (?) and Tagliatelle with shoelace tips, toenails, and worm tails (just kidding there, I don’t know what was in Dave’s Tagliatelle, perhaps you can send us a comment and let us know that, Dave.)

As for us ruthless carnivores, red meat was the flesh of the evening. Although Leo said his rack of lamb was okay, it was clear from his expression it was only average. Pat was also quite disappointed with the vividly colored Romesque Sauce dumped over her pork chop, and everyone at the table save one person agreed that the flavor was much too overpowering for the pork underneath it. When a random server was asked to find out from the kitchen what was in it, the answer was basically useless, something murmured about Spain. The night’s special cut of beef, a NY Steak, was gigantic and tender, as it should have been for $28, and I’m told deliciously prepared. When recommending it, however, the waitress should have warned people it would come dumped over gigantic wedges of salad with blue cheese dressing, as not only had Julia already had a gigantic salad, but as a non blue cheese eater, this created a strong note of discord on her dinner plate (although several people at our table were lucky enough to then enjoy blue cheese dressed salad wedges.) Meriwether’s did try to make it up to her, however, by comping her dessert. Blue cheese really is one of those things you like or loathe though, and needs to come with a warning label.

Although my appetite wasn’t really up to it on this particular night, especially after the humongous bowl of garlic soup, I chose one of the entrees I had read was one of Tommy Habetz’s signature dishes, hanger steak frittes with beef marrow bone. When my plate arrived, everyone was wowed at all the mounds of food on my plate, and especially the roasted marrow bone with the tiny little fork sticking out of the center. I must admit, I myself was a tad confused by the presentation, as orignally I though I had a plate full of thin crispy french fries, a marrow bone, some sliced hangar steak, and then a larger slab of steak underneath. I was at least half way through my entree when I finally figured out that the object beneath my slices of steak was a grilled and sauce/juice soaked hunk of grilled bread, and that this was probably what I was supposed to slather my marrow on. It was agreed on by those I shared with, the hanger steak was very good, with a rich and peppery sauce, and the french fries were expertly prepared, crispy and non-greasy. I am one of those people, however, who only wants to eat french fries when they are in the mood, so unfortunately, many lingered on my plate when I had completed the meal. I found the somewhat oily toast a bit rich and overwhelming for my tastes on this particular evening, and I know I could have found several canines who would have enjoyed my marrow bone more than I did.

I would say the verdict on the entrees at Meriwethers was rather mixed, thumbs up for the pasta and steaks, especially the NYs, but thumbs down for the pork chops and lamb. And obviously I’ve become quite jaded after many of these RR restaurants, as I didn’t bat an eye over my $22 portion of steak, much of it potato, bone, and bread, but $30 for Leo’s portion of lamb seemed a bit ridiculous. The neopolitan slab of homemade ice cream Pat had looked good, but is it really necessary to charge $7.00 for ice cream, even if you do call it a terrine? And what’s the deal with no espresso maker, just plain coffee, Leo looked like he needed to be treated for shock after he was told that.

The service was good, although there were many strange people seemingly milling around our table doing nothing for much of the evening (maybe because there were so many empty tables.) The waitress, although not bad, was somewhat on the stiff and humorless side. She also acted like someone had whipped out a scary snake or something when she saw our individual dine don’t dash payment slips, saying “What’s that??” and pointing in horror. All servers were strangely absent for a long period of time when it came to presenting the credit cards, however, almost like they had all went out onto the street to try to hustle up more business.

After much confusion over the bill, all caused by me and my headache addled brain (I kept giving people money back, as I had given P&R credit for both cash and credit card payments, and insisted we were $100 over,) Dr. T. helped me into my sleeveless white coat and those of us left proceeded out to see what all the hubbub (hububb?) over this particular patio is about. Despite its strange industrial location, the Meriwether’s patio is a tropical paradise (even with that gigantic red, looming MONTGOMERY PARK sign on the western horizon. ) Huge, multi-leveled, with heat generating lamps, a large gas fire gazebo, and multitudes of beautiful greenery, this has got to be the place to while away a summer evening with a salad, a serving of pasta, and a fine cocktail. Although I found Meriweather’s NW a mixed bag, I still would like to return sometime this summer for an idyllic evening of outside dining, and i’m pretty certain several of my co RR members had similar thoughts. This space is special, and it’s not hard to see why this place is open for bßreakfast, lunch and dinner, I’m certain each time of the day brings a special al fresco dining experience at Meriwethers.