And Behind Door #3, We Have Liver Ale!

Our group is a yo-yo (hey, at least I didn’t say full of yo-yos,) one dinner we have 13, then cancel due to lack of interest, then 10 people, then 13 people, it really makes setting-up those reservations in advance a tricky situation. And when you are potentially bringing a group of 12 or more, or even 8 or more, and the restaurant is a hot commodity, or not that big, or whatever, you must give as much advance notice as possible. So I typically shoot for 10 days. But trying to guess how many people are available or interested in a particular dinner, this is not easy, and I often have to call a restaurant multiple times to get enough chairs, or to let them know we are more minicule than I had planned.

IMG_2319Sometimes this works out better than other instances. 3 Doors Down is a restaurant who has been on that same impossible to park block off Hawthorne, across from the Bagdad, for somewhere around 15 years, although it might be longer than that. For about the first 10 years of so the place was tiny, I didn’t even consider trying to wedge a group in there, as they were famous for the lines out the door and no waiting area. A couple of years (?) ago that changed, however, 3 Ds expanded into that space to the South of them as well (what was it, a high end clothing store???) and then they had double the space, a bar, a waiting area, and entertained reservations and everything. Nonetheless, 8 people is a decent sized group for them on a Friday night, and while originally they didn’t want to give me a reservation after 6:00, I guess someone thought in this economy it was better not to turn away eight eatees, so they gave me a 6:30 reservation as requested.Several people in our group have said how much they like 3 Doors Down, in fact a couple of people have termed it their favorite restaurant. Because of this, and the restricted table size, I anticipated having to tell at least a couple of people that the table was full, and sadly they would not be able to join us at 3Ds. Be it the particular summer weekend, or perhaps the fact that many in our group had already been there, the opposite was true. I almost had to scrounge for bodies, and the fifth person just came along to round out the table a bit (thank you Cora, who actually loves 3 Doors but has eaten there so many times it just did not seem necessary until she heard I was struggling to fill the reservation.) Nowadays, there are so many places with restrictive reservations policies (usually the most popular places, or the one’s whose bottom lines can dictate turning people away) I generally check before I make the reservation to see what the restrictions might be (no reservations on Friday or Saturday, no reservations after 6:00, no reservations for less than six people, no reservation without a credit card deposit to hold that table, the last the reason why our group has not visited my beloved Toro Bravo in a very long time.) Many of those restrictions make it nearly impossible to accommodate our group, especially since I really have no idea how many people I will be bringing until the day before. I was very happy when 3 Doors Down slightly broke their reservation policy by giving us the reservation at 6:30, rather than enforcing an earlier time, but was much less happy when I honestly called the day before to tell them there would only be five of us, not to reserve 8 seats, and had my reservation canceled for not having the mandatory 6 bodies, something I did not see mentioned on their website.

Everything worked out okay, it wasn’t that busy for a Friday night and a couple of people called a few minutes in advance to have us put on the waiting list (and most of us came a few minutes early) but it still irked me to have my 10 day old reservation canceled for the lack of a 6th person.IMG_2313 I know rules is rules (yes, I do realize the grammar there is a bit hillbilliesk) but when I mildly protested, couldn’t they have let my reservation stand? Next time, when someone says they have a reservation policy for 6 or more only, and I end up with fewer, it’s clear I should not notify the restaurant as such, and just pretend that people backed out at the last second, thus having my too big table ready when we arrive (okay, I admit I have used this tactic 2-3 times already.) I try to be a good hostess and always give the restaurants an idea exactly what to expect, but from this instance I now know that at least in Portland restaurants, when it comes to reservations, honesty is not necessarily the best policy.

But I suppose if that’s the worst thing I can find to complain about when it comes to our dinner at 3 Doors Down, the person answering the phone at this one particular time was a reservation meany, this must mean they are doing quite a few things right, even after quite a few years around on the old restaurant block.

I had not been to Three Doors Down for over 10 years now, and wasn’t sure how well they might have changed with the evolution of Portland’s now “cutting-edge” dining scene.IMG_2311The last time I was there, the emphasis was on portion size, and their big thing was that if you could eat a starter, an entree, and a dessert in their entirety, they gave you a free T-Shirt that said “I Made A Pig Of Myself At 3 Doors Down.” (I swear, I’m not making this up.) Well, my companion at that time, although extremely fit, had quite the appetite, so for years I had to look at him parading around in that rather dorky looking black and white T-Shirt advertising what a pig he was. Somehow, as several people in our group had mentioned that they loved 3 Doors Down, I assumed that perhaps 3-Ds had upped their sophistication level a notch or two since the T-Shirt incident, but as many Portland restaurants keep their customers flocking in by instigating as few changes as possible over time, you can just never be sure. Also, the other thing I remembered about the old 3 Doors Down, besides the size, was that the lighting was pretty dark, it was sort of like a cave, and while you could still make out those 3 doors they had hanging on the wall, it wasn’t exactly bright and airy (it probably wasn’t improved by being a dark winter evening.)

Anyway, all that has changed now, although the famous Vodka penne is still present, always their signature dish. I’m sure if I had asked this night if I got a free T-Shirt for eating my starter, entree, and dessert, they would have looked at me like I was a total freak (or at least more than usual.)IMG_2308 And by the way, although the portion size was completely ample, I still would have had no difficulty eating everything I ordered, as well as the shared nibbles circulating around the table (although people shared mine too.)

Anyway, maybe it was the difference between previous dark winter dining and bright and summery eating out, but 3 Doors seems much improved with their additional space, the area over by the bar being particularly airy and attractive, and both sides melding together to form a homey but modern dining establishment. There’s nothing old fashioned or etched in stone here (that old motto, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it) 3 Down seems to be going with the flow of 2011 dining.

I found this particularly true of the cocktail menu, so many drinks full of bitter this and too strong that, I actually had a hard time selecting a drink.IMG_2307 I ended up having called The Devil (okay, El Diablo on the menu) which was red and had tequila and one of those more exotic type fruits or flowers in it (maybe hibiscus) and it really wasn’t too bad, although I might not want one every visit. Kiersi seemed to be stumbling over the cocktail menu as well, and while she had two different drinks, (New Fangled Fashion and a Vodka Sour) she didn’t seem to love either and probably had less than half of the second one. Of course they had everything David desired for his “usual” (otherwise, it would not be his favorite restaurant, now would it?) and while Sam ordered a Lemon Prosecco, later she was drinking ginger ale. Cora was quite disappointed that she had already guzzled all the Crater Lake Vodka on earlier visits, so she had to settle for tonic with Laurelhurst Pond Vodka (it’s those little swimming duckies that make it special.)

As he’s like me in one particular way, I could see why David likes 3 Doors Down so much when the bread arrived, crusty and good quality (I think they said Pearl Bakery) with heaping ramekins of white bean spread and butter. IMG_2303Sometimes bean spread can be a bit flat, but this was very good and savory. This being Restaurant Roulette, we chewed through the bread right away, but more was promptly brought our way, as well as what looked to be a bean spread refill.

IMG_2317Kiersi, who decided that this trip out she wanted to stick to just one or two major food items, instead of the 20 or so she had eaten at del Inti (she’s our Grace in training) had eaten some food not too long before she came. so decided she would manage with a couple of smaller plates. the first item she selected was the Artichokes, which came with a really vibrant red sauce she absolutely adored (I think perhaps a romesco. I had a couple hunks, and they really weren’t bad, as generally I’m not a big artichoke fan, as they remind me of Mentholatum, which clears the sinuses well, but isn’t that tasty.

David, who loves Caesar Salad in general, but particularly that at 3 Doors, kindly gave me a healthy serving of the one he ordered, which was one of those varieties with the whole leaves, as real Caesar it should be. IMG_2310It was good, zesty, cheesy, and garlic laden, with just about the right amount of dressing (Caesar salad needs a healthy amount.) Cora and Sam also split one of these, the waitress kindly having it split back in the kitchen, rather than just bringing two plates. Cora’s other starter was a favorite of mine, Oysters on the Half Shell (Oysters On The Half Shell With Cherry Cider Mignonette Salads) an item I really do like but never order, as they tend to be way too expensive, especially considering that they just slip down your throat, then are gone. Cora said the oysters at 3Ds were some of here favorites, as they always tasted so fresh (yeah, I hate it when I get one of those old, rancid oysters when I’m fine dining.)

For whatever reason, although I’m not overly big on pate, I do tend to enjoy it most when it’s chicken liver, probably because that’s about the only kind of liver I will go out of my way to actually eat. IMG_2309Beef Liver, blech!!!! Even duck liver, not really for me. Back in those olden time days, when I still had enough money and opportunity to travel, on my one tiny sojourn in France we stayed in this little private lodging house (which was beautiful, by the way) owned by a retired French chef and his wife. Part of the deal was that you could purchase meals cooked by him. Obviously, pate and foie gras was one of this Frenchie dude’s specialties, as he kept whipping out the pate and foie gras, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, some practically raw and some completely cooked. Almost all of it was duck, which didn’t make me feel that great, strolling the grounds and seeing his duckpond of adorable little ducks. Anyway, I’m pretty sure this guy knew his liver loving stuff, and while I ate it, as he didn’t serve much else, it just was not a favorite of mine, especially the squiggly wiggly stuff that was barely cooked (seared, I think he called it.)

I do like good, mild chicken liver mousse though, and as far as pate, this was some of the best I’ve had, both in flavor and texture. Everyone who tasted it agreed it had an unusual, un-liverlike taste, although none of us could quite place what that flavor was.IMG_2329 And by the way, let me compliment this establishment for actually providing an adequate amount of toasted bread for the portion of pate, unlike Olympic Provisions West, whom I scolded for only furnishing a meager portion of bread scrapings with their famed charcuterie plate. Also, this bread was very nicely prepared, sort of thick, and toasted just enough, so it was lightly crispy but not tough or crunchy. As everyone commented on the very unique flavor of the pate, I ventured to ask the waitress what it might be, but was given a very rudimentary list of ingredients, none which it seemed could possibly impart the somewhat puzzling flavor (I thought perhaps an herb or some sort of sherry.) The waitress promised to go back to the kitchen to “get a full list of ingredients.” I waited with baited breath, but that never happened. Probably the waitress just forgot, but I could not help but wonder if she was only pulling my leg when she promised me the complete ingredient list. As she seemed extremely serious, and almost stiffly professional, this seemed unlikely though.

Actually, this strange juxtaposition between the rather reserved, serious waitress and ME, goofball dining group hostess, created a rather odd dynamic all evening. The really professional, uptight servers we come across, I tend to be afraid of those, and basically cower and leave them alone all dinner. The warmer ones however, or some that really bug me, I occasionally say somewhat off-putting remarks to. This waitress was a rather unfathomable combination of formal, uncomfortable, and very professional, with confusing surges of warm behavior. IMG_2306Because of this, the evil side in me won out, in this instance this leading to some really bad and off-kilter humor. The best instance was probably when Sam asked for a ginger ale refill, and was mistakenly brought a whole new order instead. There was a flurry of ginger ale talk then, and the waitress seemed to think we perhaps thought the ginger ale was created in house. Someone then asked, what’s in ginger ale? (Oh brother, bub, what do you think?) As the question seemed to me ridiculously absurd (it appears pretty clear to me, GINGER ALE, there’s no mumbo jumbo here like Mr. Pibb, Dr. Pepper, 7up, Sprite, Fanta (contains fantoms) of the majority of ambiguously named soft drinks, it’s Ginger Ale) I blurted out “it contains liver.” The waitress looked at me with amazed eyeballs, and exclaimed “LIVER???.” She appeared to think I was serious. This is a person who’s existence and mine probably never meet on a co-existing plain in our known universe.

As I mentioned, Kiersi was eating lighter this evening, so she didn’t even bother to have her food cooked. Her choice for her second course was Painted Hills Carpaccio, Micro-greens, Shaved Parmesan & Garlic Aioli (or something of that nature, as that description is from 3 Doors Down website in 2010.)IMG_2315 She seemed to think it was good, and while we all agreed it was tender and nice, I just do not find creatures in their uncooked state that filling, and in the case of beef, that flavorful. Crazy me, I don’t tend to eat raw chicken or pork, but when it comes to sushi with raw fish I can eat an ocean’s worth before I get filled up, but not so the equivalent of fried rolls (maybe it’s just the oil they are cooked in that makes them filling?) The same is true of raw beef, as rare as I like it, when it comes to carpaccio and an equal amount of cooked steak, I can probably eat two to three times as much of the wiggly red stuff, not good for the wallet with the prices raw cow tends to command.

Cora and Sam both had that night’s pasta special, which went something like this: Linguine, English Peas, Prosciutto, Prawns, and Lemon Cream Sauce. IMG_2316The 3 Doors Down menu was just bursting in English Peas, and as Sam gave me some fresh ones she had at home after the dinner, it seemed the world was swimming in peas. Peas seem so innocuous to me, I’ll never understand why so many people in the world are adverse to their presence. Even a few weeks back, when Mr. Obama was making a speech on the ridiculous debt ceiling stalemate, he said that it was now time to face the fact that we had to eat our peas. Doesn’t he understand, eating peas is pleasurable? I’d rather eat an acre of peas than spend 20 seconds looking at the sour, constipated faces of some of these representatives who took control during the last major election who say no to everything. Whatever the case, I’m sure Mr. President didn’t gain too many fans from the leagues of American pea farmers (there are American pea growers, right?)

Anyway, back to something that has even the tiniest connection to our dinner. As is their habit, Sam and Cora handed around small plates (in this case, small put really ample plates) of their pasta, and I must say it seemed super delicious (I think it was the peas that made it work. Tell those pea farmers THAT!) IMG_2328David also generously offered us as much of his pasta as we wanted, the famous Pork & Beef Bolognese Sauce With Penne With Vodka Sauce And House Made Italian Sausage. Although there are so many versions of this floating around these days, 3 Ds had one of the first, and their’s is certainly a bit spicier than others. It was good for sure, but these acidic sauces always send me running for an extra dose of Prilosec.

Big surprise from me, I had the Grilled Painted Hills Flat Iron Steak, Blue Cheese Butter, Potato Pave and zucchini dealie (my description at the end.)IMG_2314Sometimes the simplest steak preparation can be the best one, and while the meat was pretty simple, it was still perfectly cooked, flavorful, and tender. Sometimes flatiron can be a tad bland, but I’ve discovered that if you add a wad of buttery substance all melting over the top, it really adds flavor (and in this case, a penicillin boost!) Also, while I have no idea what a pave is supposed to be, this potatofied version was fine and dandy, and the zucchini dealie was really tasty too. I really would never cook long, cylindrical squashes at home, just shove them in a loaf of bread, but it always amazes me how good zucchini can taste in a nice restaurant.

When it came to dessert, we were a group lacking all self-control, which was fine by me. IMG_2322Even David, who almost never orders dessert (but will eat other people’s) got into the spirit and ordered something. Out of five people, we got four sizable desserts, and would have probably gotten five had Cora and Kiersi not decided they would split a creme caramel. It seemed your typical good quality, jittery, eggy sort of concoction, bordering on flanville.

IMG_2326Sam got the intriguing Malted Milk Pot de Creme, which she seemed to enjoy beyond measure, David really cut loose with a big pile of tiramisu, and as I’m never able to turn away, when I see it on any menu, I ordered banana creme pie (banana creme, chocolate creme, coconut creme, I never shun any of them.) It was a big honking’ piece, and I ate most of it, with a few helpers. It was quite good, but only one banana cream pie I ever had broke out of the pack into magnificence.

Probably about 12 years ago, at the then always reliable Red Star Tavern (it used to be one of the best meals PDX had to offer) I had an individual banana creme pie with a wonderful macadamia nut crust that was really like no other.IMG_2321 I judge all banana creme pies by that standard, and so far no other comes close. I haven’t been to the Red Star in years, but you never read about it these days, so I guess it isn’t what it once was. It is part of Portland’s only 5 star hotel, however, so it can’t be too trashy.

Although myself and the server really never found much common territory, she seemed very good at her job, just as 3 Doors Down seems very good at all the things it wants to be good at. Unlike the just discussed Red Star, it appears to have improved with age, and its expansion made it a much better place to dine (as long as you aren’t less than six and want a reservation, of course.)IMG_2324 We all had really good eats, and since it was such a wonderful summer evening, us womenfolk had a nice stroll around the “always colorful” Hawthorne neighborhood. I’ve certainly never seen so many cool chicken coops in such a small area in my life! For a late blooming chicken fanatic like myself, what could be a better way to end my foodie and farmyard evening?