The Dining Report – Gruner

Portland Mountain High

When I was in my teens, my father and I used to go out to dinner a great deal. Portland was not the gigantic dining mecca it is now, and there were the cheap neighborhood places, the moderately nicer places, and the places that were extra fancy, that we only ate at now and then. One of the moderate places we went to quite often was a Swiss/Germanic place called The Matterhorn, which was located at  82nd and Burnside, where Walgreens is now. The Matterhorn was operated by two nice couples, the Elmers and the Herzogs, and when it opened I suppose it was viewed as sort of a poor man’s Rheinlander, since it had cheese fondue, Tyrolean dressed staff, and singing and accordion playing. The Rheinlander might still exist, in its ridiculously expensive fashion, while The Matterhorn is long gone, but I always found The Matterhorn the superior restaurant, maybe because Swiss/Germanic suited my palate better than just plain Germanic.

Sometimes restaurants go away, and for the rest of your life you look back and pine away for the house specialties, or just something they did exceptionally well. Sadly, although The Matterhorn was a decent enough place, and I ate there SO MANY times, there were just a couple of menu items I found superior there, their cheese fondue and their thick and creamy soups. Otherwise, meh. I don’t think this is any particular indictment of their kitchen. I just find Alpine food less than inspiring, too many schnitzelee meats, too much cabbage, too much pickled and stewed. Even the desserts, not so great (Black Forest Cake, yuck!)

This could be why I wasn’t exactly doing handstands at the thought of checking out Gruner, Chris Israel’s new “Alpine” styled eatery. We all know Mr. Israel has a great track record here, Zefiro, Saucebox, early 23 Hoyt.IMG_1474 I’ve never been a Saucebox fan since those early days though, Asian Fusion doesn’t do it for me, and when RR visited 23 Hoyt in the Israel days, we were almost completely underwhelmed. Before Gruner opened, it seemed like I kept reading, this guy is great, but why Alps food? (Often valued right up there with British cuisine.) We all know I love those new places though, and I knew Israel was doing a real number on his space to make it really interesting, so off we went for “Alpine Cuisine.”

Sometimes before we have our dinners, people tell me they have selected their food before they even reach the restaurant, picking from the on-line menu. I often caution people against doing this, as some on-line menus are really old and dusty. I did this myself in the case of Gruner, however, I knew the menu there was relatively current, and so few entrees sounded overly appealing to me (that high-altitude prejudice again) I wanted to make sure I had an idea what to order in advance, as I didn’t want to spend forever deciding what to have. (more…)