Five Woody’s, Some Innards, Dead Bunnies, Veggies Masquerading As Buffalo, and A Big Box Full Of Fun

(and don’t forget to grab a piece of dental floss.)

Anyone who ever travels down NE Fremont through Rose City Park and Beaumont-Wilshire has to recognize Fife, that big wooden box that went up in the last decade. perhaps where the original Rose’s Ice Cream used to stand in long gone eras. Although I usually prefer rehabbing old buildings into new spaces, or at least making the new look old to fit in with neighboring structures (like those ridiculously expensive condos a couple of blocks east,) for new construction, I’ve always thought the Fife building relatively attractive and interesting, probably because of all the warm wood. IMG_0240.JPGEver since it was built, I wanted to eat there, and have heard good things about it, except for cold and breezy in the winter (all those windows on the front,) and terrible acoustics. If I didn’t take the group to restaurants with bad acoustics though, we would never go anywhere popular.

People who actually still read these juggernauts of dining excess know that since the beginning of this year I have had problems getting people to attend the dinners, or actually making the dinners once they RSVP (usually a reasonable excuse is sent my way.) Fife was a nice exception, as many people showed interest by RSVPing early. As it happens, I still managed to lose four people before the dinner rolled around, but we still had a healthy group of nine show up, a nice mix of old regulars, some of my mid-range always cherished regulars, and a new face in the crowd. Our new member, who blended in flawlessly, was Nancy, a lover of good food and dining out, who conveniently lives about three minutes away and loves visiting Fife (although usually not in groups of nine I would suspect.) As in my customarily somewhat rude habit, I sat right in the middle of the table, and with such a fun and interesting bunch, got whiplash by the end of the evening, turning my head abruptly back and forth to try to address the various people sending comments my way, and trying to horn in on as much interesting conversation as I could. Fife is indeed a very loud place though, and on many occasions I had to turn up the volume on my already jarring natural tones to be heard, and had a really hard time hearing those of a naturally soft-spoken (but forceful) nature like Glenda. Everyone had an old RR pro sitting by them to converse with though, so whether it was hard to hear the whole table or not, I think everyone got in on some good conversation and humorously repartee.

IMG_0241.JPGAs makes sense with a space that really is a big box, Fife is roomy, airy, and had at least three large tables of people going at the same time. Large restaurant, tiny parking lot, I think I noticed six spaces in there when I was tardily zooming by to find street parking. Driving around on this part of Fremont tends to be both a driving and parking nightmare, tiny, barely passable residential streets, terrible sight lines turning out from these dinky side streets, basically a barely two lane residential thoroughfare with about 15 commercial blocks. Big fun, no wonder the speed limit here is a crawling 20 mph.

As benefits its woodsy exterior, Fife is sophisticated but comfortable inside. The walls are a a nice combination of burgundy and rust, with a sage color ceiling and multiple modern light fixtures. With the wall of windows looking out on Fremont, the atmosphere inside was wonderful for one of our first daylight dinners of the year, especially as it was a beautiful, sunny spring evening (although I was expecting snow or a tornado at any second, as I always do now.) IMG_0213.JPGThe walls were adorned with your garden variety art for sale, this better than most, with a wonderfully realistic painting technique, and dark and vivid colors (positively Titan.) Dave, our artist (and painter) in residence on this evening, was quite taken with this artist, despite (or perhaps because of) the off-kilter compositions of colorful objects juxtaposed, pumpkins and circular saws, tomatoes and antlers. Our other David in residence was also quite fascinated by these paintings (the Davids are lucky they had that beautiful view of the wall,) crying in wonderment “are they velvet!!!, (obviously a favorite of his,) and happily reminiscing on his collection of artwork featuring dogs playing poker.

This dinner actually had quite a few bodies I have not seen for some time now, Michael since November, Tori and Dave since December, Glenda for four dinners (that’s a long time away for her,) and Nancy, never, so I was having a hard time concentrating on food and drink or even looking at menus, with all the acquainting and reacquainting going on. IMG_0219.JPGFinally I glanced at the drink menu and came up with a Cherry Kamikazi, a pretty drink a bit too sour and acidic for my tastes, the ingredients mostly vodka, cherry something or other, and lime. Persuaded by our new rabble rouser Nancy, the other women at the table were having something called “The Woody,” which I’m told was Fife’s version of the “Old Fashioned.” No Woody’s for me, I had an Old Fashioned once at Jake’s Grill, only to discover it had some nasty whiskey like brown liquor as an ingredient, and almost keeled over and died after a couple of slurps. Other drinks ordered were a “Rusty Nail” (who could that be?,) a “Manhattan,” a “French Connection,” various glasses of wine and champagne, and a couple of beers. One of Regis’ beers was from the acclaimed Alameda Brewing, although he really wasn’t sure where it was made, which was fun, as Alameda Brewing was a whole block down the street (we’ll cut him some slack though, as he lives in Hillsboro, and before that, practically everywhere in the world, or at least the places with beer.)

IMG_0216.JPGFife’s motto (afterall, there’s nothing like a restaurant with a motto,) is “Fife, An America Place,” which practically stopped me from ever going there, but while many of the meats served are stereotypically very American, many of the preparations have what I would refer to as European flourishes, especially some quite ornate presentations. Believe me, the food at Fife is nothing like you would find at a local roadside diner. The menu also mentions that Fife serves food from local, sustainable, and organic Oregon farmers (maybe they should be called Oreganic farmers,) a trend we have been seeing much of lately, especially at Trebol, the dinner before this.

Despite the ornate presentations, I must say my first course was particularly “butt ugly.” Obviously, oysters are never what you would call a pretty food once those shells are popped open, but there’s no two ways about it, these were the most unattractive oysters I have ever been presented with. The preparation, billed as “Fried Willapa Bay oysters with bacon and creamed spinach,” wasn’t awful by any means, although the oysters were extra large and briny. IMG_0222.JPGThe tiny morsels of bacon (yes, bacon again, queen of pig fat) were yummy, but the creamed spinach underneath was so tiny I forgot until I reread the menu that it existed. I think the main issue I had with this starter was how it looked, especially the color of the coating, which was an unappealing support hose yellowish beige, and the plain white dish they were plunked in the middle of, which did nothing to fancy them up. They tasted okay, in a very ocean driven way, but the portion, which I think was four, was awfully small for $9.

Our artistic friend Dave, lover of beauty, also had a hankering on this evening for a naturally ugly food item, and selected the “Pan fried livers and kidneys with cured pork belly and tarragon on toast.” That name alone was a real winner, a fancying up of guts and belly on bread, but when it came, it was actually quite pretty (it put my nasty looking oysters to shame,) with the slice of burnished bread and meats looking all juicy and golden. As our old friend Marnie would say (remember that fun girl?) Dave gave it 10 thumbs up, kindly offering to share if I wanted some. I narrow-mindedly explained that I only do poultry innards. IMG_0220.JPGIt warmed my heart that he wanted to share his pork belly though. Dave’s more medicinal half, Tori, decided on the “Chicken roulade with pickled fiddlehead ferns (???) and fennel sesame cracker.” Our sweet, wonderful Tori, she always orders items attuned to a very complex and unusual palate, but I think her real secret is, you can take Tori away from the backpacking, but you can’t take the backpacking away from Tori, she’s always ordering mushrooms, nuts, and ferns (okay, this is the first time I’ve seen her order ferns.) I have confidence this woman will always be able to take care of herself in the wild.

As they had no chicken and Turnip soup, our old friend David instead had the “Tomato and Anasazi bean soup,” which indeed was very reddish. He said it was also very good, and offered to share a spoon sucking worth, but ever since I’ve been a child, I’ve always disliked stewed tomato things, so I declined his kind offer.IMG_0224.JPGAlso ordered on this evening were two “Persian cress with roasted beets, goat cheese and rosemary vinaigrette,” and two “Baby romaine with apples, hazelnuts and tomato vinaigrette.” I noticed people munching them down like they enjoyed them, but I sort of missed out on the opinions of their worth, as I was engaged at that time in one of about a million different conversations. I did hear the comment that they were rather small though for $7. Actually, that was an opinion I had most of the night, that except for Dave’s starter and the chicken entree, most of the servings were on the smallish side, although the prices were also on the “lower” end for fine dining these days in Portland, $17 to $22, so at least it was a somewhat fair trade off.

IMG_0217.JPGAfter we coaxed Glenda to stop dancing on the table (there’s just no controlling that woman,) and shilling for Sam Adams, the entrees arrived (until Glenda got down from the table, there was just no place to set them, although the table was nice and professionally roomy compared to the wooden postage stamps at the otherwise admired Trebol.) It was another of those evenings where almost everyone wanted to double and triple up on the entrees. so out of nine people, only five different main courses were ordered. I was extremely tempted by the “Razor clams with mizuna greens, shaved celery, carrots and saffron jus,” and know in my heart our long disappeared friend Brian would have ordered them, had he not went “poof ” into oblivion several dinners ago. Also interesting sounding, but not ordered, was the “Grilled pork leg with apples, lima beans, and kale raab,” which I know would have been right up Pam’s alley, had she been here with us instead eating a sandwich at the river with her husband (some people!)

IMG_0225.JPGActually, at this point all nine of were almost out of money, so we each just ordered a bowl of cereal then went home. Wait, that wasn’t last Friday, that was my dinner last night. Now that I think about it, people at our table did have entree thingees. Three of those entree thingees were chicken, and surprisingly, one person who had this unusual poultry was David, throwing all caution to the wind and ordering what he only orders 99% of the time (David has always taken “Picking up hot chicks” a bit too literally.) On this night, his ultimate temptation was”Tarragon basted, cast iron chicken with shitakes, bacon, and potatoes.” Pat and Regis also decided this sounded good, so chicken was the most commonly ordered entree at out table this evening. The portion was quite a generous one, and since his soup must have been relatively filling, he decided to take at least half of it to go. Unfortunately on this evening, David had to cut the evening short before dessert, and left his chicken forlornly alone on the table as he skeedaddled. Nancy’s dog had a happy night though! Anyway, from what I heard, the chicken was really delicious (maybe Nancy’s dog could email me a comment for the blog.)

Unlike the overall pleased opinions of the chicken people, more mixed opinions were expressed by the Bunny Munchers, Dave and Michael. IMG_0226.JPGFife’s version of Bugs was described as “Roasted rabbit with kale, turnips, coriander and dried plums.” As often seems the case with “commercial rabbit,” although the portions looked generous, I think it was quite bony and hard to eat, a testament to this being my remark that Dave’s plate looked like it had been attacked by a hyena, with bones scattered on all over its surface (hey Dave, I really meant this as a compliment, how you had stayed with and struggled with your bunny until every morsel was devoured.) I think Michael might have enjoyed the rabbit a bit more than Dave, perhaps his had been a bit huskier, but both agreed that the flavor was pretty neutral, with not enough zing (and I have noticed since I met him, Dave is really into flavors that zing him.)

Both Nancy and Glenda, seemingly wanting to do their part toward total eradication of the species, selected Salmon this evening. Fife’s preparation this Friday was “Wild salmon with French breakfast radishes, sunchokes, and spinach puree.” That sounds pretty darn healthy to me, no wonder I did not have it. I think of all the opinions I heard on this evening, Glenda’s and Nancy’s were most favorable, so perhaps on this evening, healthy was really good too. IMG_0229.JPGThe other positively bursting with health entree ordered was by our nature girl, Tori, who selected “Sweet potato, mushroom and kale napoleon with ricotta and tomato jus .” (I think Fife must have hijacked a kale truck somewhere.) Do you think our Dr. T. sees some weird benefit from eating right on occasion? Man, she really needs to get with the program.

Unfortunately for Tori, we were all termitting away, and she didn’t actually receive any food with the rest of us. It turns out that the main reason for this was that someone had set her entree down in front of me by accident, and me see food, so me eat it. Sure, it really wasn’t similar in the least to what I ordered, but it was about the right color, and it was in front of me, so down it went. Actually, the problem was discovered within about five minutes, when my real entree made it to the table, but by that point I had consumed a forkful or ten, so Tori had to wait for a second napolean to be prepared. Okay, I suppose I could have been a bit more observant, but mushroom, buffalo, whatever, I never said I was a food critic (only a dinner and restaurant critic.)

I did share a bite of my entree with Tori while she was oh so patiently waiting (the chef will see you now,) afterall, I had my minor role in her misfortune. IMG_0230.JPGI always admire this so much about our dear friend Tori, although she knows how to eat sensibly, and often does (what could be more admirable than a mouth full of fiddleheads?) she is still always willing to take a taste of whatever dubious items I may have ordered, and often says nice things about them. She’s just swell. On this night I had actually passed up the beef (too purple potatoey, parsnip like and laden with red wine,) and instead zeroed in on the buffalo (now THAT’S an American meat!) The menu description on this evening was “Buffalo tri tip with caramelized onion-potato gratin and parsley oil.” It certainly wasn’t bad (although it did seem a tad different than the sweet potato mushroom napolean,) but like Dave, I did find it rather lacking in zing. As probably is not too surprising, the parsley oil wasn’t exactly the zestiest of sauces, and the meat itself was a bit over-rubbed with a spice neither Tori nor I could totally put our finger on, although I thought perhaps a heavy dose of coriander and maybe an ODing of black pepper. The potato gratin also seemed severely lacking in the gratin department, which would have zinged those taters up, and overall, I just didn’t see much melding of the various flavors on my plate.

IMG_0214.JPGI always know I have a really fun crowd when almost everyone wants dessert, and on this evening, everyone indulged expect for those two guys who hit the road early (David had to go, and the oddball Michael doesn’t do dessert. What Is Wrong With This Guy!!!!!!)

Quite a few different desserts were ordered this dinner, but I’ll have to wing what they were, as I don’t have a dessert menu (I forgot to steal one,) but I did have a couple of tastes, which always helps. Nancy, to my right (in forking distance,) had the apple rhubarb crisp, which she said was delicious (I’m a big weenie when it comes to sour, and it was a bit tart for my palate.)IMG_0234.JPG Dave had the cheesecake, which on this evening was overhung with this delicious looking florentine cookie looking taco contraption (I didn’t see him offering to do too much sharing, so I think it was excellent.) Regis had the lovely lemon pudding cake, which I would have ordered myself, had it not come with blueberry sauce, which I often find too sweet (I know, make up you cotton picking mind, too sour, too sweet.) Really a nice color contrast though, the lemon and the blueberries. I noticed it disappeared relatively rapidly, so I’m guessing it was pretty good. Also vanishing astonishingly fast was Pat’s chocolate bread pudding. She’s a little woman, but she finds ways to pack away the food. It makes me proud. I actually only ate about 1/2 of my chocolate bread pudding, I tend to like my chocolate less gooey, less intense, and creamier (yes, I’m a cocoa wussie.) I had hoped since it was bread pudding it would be breadier, and less concentrated in chocolately-ness, but I think it suited Pat’s tastes just fine. IMG_0236.JPGTori and Glenda each had the very refined looking molasses cake, something you certainly don’t see much of in these parts. Tori and I exchanged dessert bites, and I must say it was extremely moist, gooey, and molasses-laden. I love homemade molasses cookies (hey, I need to whip some of those up,) but I must say as far as this cake, a little molasses goes a long way, and I certainly would not have wanted more than one serving of this cake, it was pretty intense (and I want multi-serving of every cake.)

Dave’s trip to the men’s room was an eye-opener, as he spied something there he had never peekabooed before, (???) a large metallic dental floss dispenser. He was practically awe-struck when he returned to the table, and after much cajoling, I finally persuaded him to take my camera into the men’s room to snap a few pictures (hey, I never said I don’t lead a pathetic and sheltered life, now did I.)IMG_0239.JPG I had been in the women’s room earlier, but certainly had not noticed any such contraption in our cubicle. Of course, I might have seen it and just thought it was a toothpick dispenser, something I would ignore, not being one for jabbing my gums with sharpened little sticks. No one else at our table noticed it in the women’s room either though, man or woman, so that would lead me to believe it didn’t exist there.

I don’t know, perhaps it’s because we haven’t had many well-attended dinners this year where things went smoothly, (Lovely Hula Hands an exception, and Tabla was pretty good) but this seemed like a really good dinner, and I think everyone had a pretty decent time. Not everyone loved everything they ordered, but nothing was even approaching bad, (only lacking zinginess,) and prices were midrange, although they certainly added up with so many people having drinks, starters, entrees and desserts. The service was very pleasant, and unassuming and non-presuming, and whenever either of the two water glasses I ended up with were getting down there, someone was always at my elbow to fill them up. Dave expressed the opinion that he would have been extremely pleased by his dinner had he just had the organs and the dessert, that the rabbit let him down, and I think I would have been much more pleased by Fife had I selected a different entree. I loved the atmosphere, and would like going back, just selecting my food more carefully next time. I know I would probably have a hard time selecting a more interesting combination of people, because how often do you really get to dine with a doctor, an artist, a retired nurse and defense contractor, a para-educator, salesperson, librarian, and administrative assistant? Pretty interesting stuff. See what the multitudes of you have been missing by not attending Restaurant Roulette dinners? And how often do you really have access to “all you can use” dental floss, I may add.