THE DINING REPORT – Laurelhurst Market

First Class Dining At The Convenience Store

Yes, it’s true that Laurelhurst Market has existed for many years now, but boy, has it changed. For eons it existed as a gritty little grocery store across the street from Music Millennium, a place I occasionally parked along the side of when going to MM (I hate parking at MM) but whose doorstop I never darkened, or really ever wanted to. Then it seemed to really start going down hill, and was closed, and finally, I read some interesting people were planning on putting a restaurant in there. That seemed a bit far fetched, since how many people envision turning buildings that began their lives as Plaid Pantry into fine dining establishments? I suppose though if you think about the fact that Sympatica is in the basement of a former church of Scientology and rock music venue, it’s not too far fetched. (Speaking of Sympathica, why can’t I ever remember to have a dinner there?)

Anyway, for those who don’t know, Laurelhurst Market (the restaurant) is from those guys who brought you Sympatica Dining Hall and Viande Meets, and not only is a really nice restaurant at night, but it’s actually a high end butcher shop during the day (which I think also makes sandwiches at lunchtime. Not counting places like delis that both sell meats and have tables when you can eat at, I would think this is a Portland first, Butcher Shop/Fine Dining Combo. I’ve heard it described as a “Steak House”, and there are a few more beef cuts on the menu than average, but Laurelhurst Market certainly doesn’t have the boys club atmosphere, exorbitant prices, or snooty attitude that characterizes many steakhouses, although some of the steaks do come ala carte, with a choice of several reasonably priced side dishes you can select to go with your meat. Besides the beef though, there’s chicken, duck, a couple of pork dishes, three kind of mussels, and at least two fish options to select from, so basically Laurelhurst Market is your typical, cutting edge Portland eatery, just one that really knows steak.

I was very excited to welcome at this dinner two new members, Heidi and Julian (although I appreciate you old, stale folks as well). IMG_1122This food knowledgeable young couple actually asked to join in after Heidi stumbled upon our blog during her internet rambles, although I wonder about her judgement a tad, since my writing didn’t scare her away. Although I was a tad worried about inviting them to Laurelhurst Market, because Heidi doesn’t eat meat and Julian eats little except for pepperoni pizza, they walked over one evening and looked at the menu at LM, saw some fish dishes, and enthusiastically joined in. It was really good having them at the dinner, and learning about some new folks (Heidi’s from Chicago and Julian was born in Holland, although they have been Northwesterners for some time now).

As seems to happen whenever I’m somewhat later than the majority of people arriving (in this case I was last, and I was actually early) I seem to suffer disconbobolation and spend all evening trying to get a handle on my hostess duties. At least this time I didn’t forget to hand out the dining slips or take the photos, but my powers of observation as to what everyone was eating and drinking were pretty lame, even as far as my own food and beverage. I know Glenda had her now standard G & T, as she was quite enthusiastic about the locally produced Aviation Gin her drink contained (as they are a customer of mine, I am pleased to see how many Portland eating and drinking establishments now feature this House Spirit liquor on their specialty cocktail menu).IMG_1117 I’m thinking Heidi enjoys wine with her meals, and she started with a glass of red and finished with what I think I heard was a Pinot Grigio.  Julian seemed to be tee-totaling it this evening, as he looked like he was sipping a Coke, as was David, although his included a healthy dose of rum (they must not have had Drambuie). Sadly, I can’t remember what I had (must have been strong) but I think it was perhaps a Lime Rickey, although whether it contained Gin, Rum, or Vodka, I cannot say.

One thing I can certainly remember is Glenda’s new tattoo. As many of you who have attended dinners since last fall know, Glenda has been threatening for some time to get a tattoo proving her love of all things French.IMG_1120 (I personally think it might have been cheaper and less painful to just cover her body in bumper stickers to match her car, the RadicalMobile). After researching various parlors over the months, and finally making up her mind on location, she showed up at our latest dinner sporting her francophile skin art, which she proclaimed didn’t hurt at all. Our Glenda, what a toughie!

Luckily not as tough was selecting starters at Laurelhurst Market. Newbies Heidi and Julian decided to sample the Mac and Cheese to begin their first RR dining experience, and received a brown and cheesy looking ramekin of pasta that I think they were quite pleased with, although once again I seemed to have slipped into a mini coma about this time period, and can’t remember their actual comments. IMG_1123Or perhaps I was just too entranced by their “dead Grampa in the campground story”  to pay attention to much else. (Moral of the story, if someone asks you to stay with a dead body in a darkened wilderness setting, just say no!).

Glenda, obviously hardened by her tattoo and rehearsing her “tough old broad” act, chose to begin her eating festivities by gnawing on the “Roasted Marrow Bones with Pistou and Toast” (Pistou is a French pesto). IMG_1125 Although I know my dog would have had a great  time with this starter, I have found these bone centered selections somewhat lacking in my previous sampling experience, although this was a seemingly nicer selection than usual of this osteoporodic dish, and the pesto looked like it brought the whole thing to life. Glenda proclaimed them delicious though, so what do I know? (And I’m sure that growling I heard when the waitress approached the table was all in my imagination).

IMG_1126David, as he kindly does on occasion, ordered a Charcuterie Plate for anyone to share who was interested. Not surprisingly, as LM is a butcher shop as well as a restaurant, I found the rilettes and pates (or whatever fancy name these spamy things are using these days) of extra good quality, and enjoyed the sampling I did. David also had some sort of salad, which I didn’t hear the name of, but my guess was the house “local green salad with tomato vinaigrette”, which interestingly is listed as one of the sides, not in the official salad section.

Rather oddly, not only was I clueless to everyone else’s food, I wasn’t even paying that much attention to the things I ordered either, and consumed the “Heirloom Melon Salad” not certain what else was in it until I looked at my copy of the menu after I got home. According the the online menu, this salad is a combination of Melon, Basque Peppers, Lemon Cucumber, Guanciale, Mizuna and Basil. Someone must have really reached into their bag of originality to come up with these ingredients, which made for an interesting and usual plate of salad, although my palate was not completely attuned to the contrast of the sweet melon and the rather tart lemon cucumbers. IMG_1124Whenever I see melon salad on a menu, which is not that often in these less arid climes, I have a hard time not ordering it, fondly remembering a melon and shrimp salad I one enjoyed totally in Florence Italy. The restaurant, close to the Arno (not necessarily a good thing) was a rather peculiar place, and not overly nice. I remember almost no names of restaurants I visited in Italy, but I think maybe this one was called Bacchus, and their melon salad, which featured cantaloupe, bay shrimp, and celery, was delightful.

A funny thing actually happened when we visited this butcher’s restaurant, three out of five people ordered seafood as their main course. IMG_1129Obviously, Heidi and Julian selected fish as their entrees, and I was glad LM had some nice non-meat preparations for them to try. Heidi decided that The “Cedar Plank Coho Salmon with Ratatouille, Roasted New Potatoes and Anchoiade” sounded nice, and sure enough, she found it delicious, especially enjoying the fish’s smoky flavor (remember Heidi, next time soak your plank first to avoid carbonized fish).IMG_1130 Julian decided he wanted to sample the other fish entree, so had the “Grilled Albacore Tuna with Pocha Beans, Artichokes, and Olive Vinaigrette”.  No piece of burning tree was involved, so I don’t think Julian found his fish as smoky as Heidi’s salmon, but he seemed pleased with what he ordered, and I don’t think left anything behind on his plate.

The third person having fish also had Tuna, Glenda deciding she needed to stay away from other heavy meat dishes after her episode with the plate of marrow bones, instead choosing a salad as her second item. IMG_1128This salad, a “Nicoise Salad with Pole Beans, Nicola Potatoes, Oil-Poached Tuna, Cherry Tomatoes, Hardboiled Eggs and Gribiche” was an elaborate looking construction, and seemed an extremely hardy portion to me. Glenda just shrugged over my amazement over eating the whole thing though, saying it was really “just vegetables”. (And after all, the only thing this poor woman had eaten before this was a plate of bones).

David, probably being more sensible than me, decided to try that evening’s Steak Frites, an item that is always on LM’s menu, with rotating cuts of beef.IMG_1131 I mention the sensible nature of his choice because for $19 he got a lovely plate of sliced Top Sirloin that was pan seared and covered in wine sauce, accompanied with a hearty side of tasty looking golden brown fries. He said it was really delicious, and the Top Sirloin very flavorful and tender.

I, on the other hand, went in the opposite direction, having one of the two most expensive steaks on the menu, but still at $30, probably a good value for a piece of beef of this size and quality. The Grilled Ribeye with Blue Cheese Butter and Fried Walla Walla Onions” was a monster, and I actually had a large chunk of meat left when I was finished to enjoy at a later time. As I’m really not the sort of person who feels they can afford to spend healthy sums of money on just one piece of meat, I probably would have not spent $30 on any other cut of beef, except perhaps a nice slab of Prime Rib (the same cut anyway, but prepared differently). Just once though, I thought it would be nice to go to a restaurant who knew how to select and prepare a nice rib steak, and see how this differed from the less fine meats I usually get at the supermarket and prepare myself. IMG_1133Thus my splurge. I must say, this ribeye was certainly much more tender, and more delicately marbled than those I usually have, and certainly it was perfectly prepared to my precise level of rareness, something hit or miss when I prepare ribeye, and where many restaurants falter with their ribeye preparation, as it’s a quick cooking meat that is hard to keep rare unless it is moderately thick. The fried onions on top were also lacking greasiness, and quite good, although not surprising, didn’t nuke that well three days later.

My other splurge was spending $1.50 for a Homemade Yeast Roll, something I read several people complaining about,  but certainly saved me much time and effort in the kitchen. As commented on during my Park Kitchen review, rather annoyingly, more and more people are charging these days for something you could take for granted in any decent dinner spot before, free bread or rolls. As a big bread lover (and many bread lovers do become big) I too bemoan this habit of having to pay extra for one’s bread items, especially as I’m often starving at the beginning of a dinner out, and need something to tide me over. IMG_1132That being said, I must say that many of the breads and rolls you have to pay extra for, as well as the European style butter and olive oils that come with them, are probably better quality than what you might get for free. I know I recently shared three homemade biscuits with house made peach preserves at the Country Cat that cost $6.00, but were probably worth every penny, even at $2.00 per biscuit. Also, as restaurants who give away free bread must have much waste, I’m sure charging for bread and rolls cuts down on the excess, as the average person is not going to pay for bread if they don’t plan on eating most of it. As for this dinner roll, although not as good as the CC’s biscuits, it was very much like a nice, home baked yeast roll.

Most of us had such big honkin’ meals, we just could not manage dessert, even our dessert stalwart, Glenda (of course I sensibly NEVER order dessert). IMG_1134It seems Julian is a cheesecake lover though, so he could not resist, so him and the missus checked out a slab of Laurelhurst Market’s cheesecake with some dark red fruit on top, perhaps cherries, but maybe something more obscure like huckleberries, all this going from photo observation, as once again my memory bank proved to be toast. It looked like it was good though, although my heart will always belong to the cheesecake served at The Farm Cafe, topped with toasted pecans and praline sauce, Now that’s cheesecake! Who needs nasty fruit when you can have sugar dumped over the top?

Although my attention span was at the level of a barn swallow during this dinner, I still think it was a success, Heidi and Julian were great additions, and everyone said they enjoyed their food and would like to return. IMG_1121The atmosphere was nice, woody with cool, trendy colors like sage and rust, and the unisex bathrooms were beautiful, black with elaborate wall paintings of metallic magnolia flowers (at least the cubicle I visited). The food was excellent, the service was good, and depending on what you ordered, the prices could be quite reasonable (with the exception of my steak, all the main dishes were below $20). Also, at this point in time, Laurelhurst Market is still unknown enough that with a bit of effort, you should be able to get a table. Everything I’ve read about Laurelhurst Market has been positive though, so I predict big things for this place. So my advice, visit  there before it becomes totally packed and an “it” place to dine. And don’t forget to splurge on that $1.50 dinner roll.