THE DINING REPORT – THE WOODSMAN TAVERN
PICKLEBACKS, WRECKED PALATES, AND THE MIRACULOUS CROUTON

This is 100 for me. No, not my 100th birthday, although often I feel that way. This is my 100th Restaurant Roulette dinner review on this blog, at least according to WordPress.IMG_2545 Can you believe I’ve made it through at least 100 dinners with a bunch of people who were almost all strangers at their first group dinner, and that some actually come back again and again to dine with the likes of me? (Don’t worry, I know it’s mainly because most of the  food is really good.) And to think, the blog didn’t become a struggle until about 50 reviews in (which is why I laugh when people get mad at me and send comments implying I live to do nothing but blog my life away. I would gladly sit back and send in an random snippy comments while they labor away at the keyboard for hours trying to be occasionally funny, or at least informative. Oh, and there’s also that fun part where I spend half of each dinner taking photos!) I do love the dinners though, and visiting all the new restaurants, and hanging out with my dining buddies, both familiar and brand new, and I think the blog is a bonus for potential and current members. So onward I solider, and readily I eat, all in the name of group dining fun. I don’t know if we’ll make it to 200, as that would end up being over 10 years of Restaurant Roulette, but anyone who wants to hang in with me as long as possible, we’ll give it our best shot. After all, I still have my first member, he was at the Woodsman dinner, and while we don’t see him that often, he does still seem to have a good time when he joins us.

Okay, that was a weird experience. I’m sitting here at 8:00 in the evening, writing this, and my doorbell rings. I turn on my porch light, and there’s a Penske Rental Truck outside delivering my UPS package. Has anyone else gotten UPS packages at 8:00 PM in a rental truck? It’s hard to know if this is a seasonal overflow thing (on December 1st?) or if their truck just broke down, but do you remember those old timey days when your mail came six days a week, probably before 4:00 PM, and you didn’t see UPS drivers doing deliveries at 8:00 at night?

Wasn’t that just fascinating? Please remember, I live a very tiny life.
Anyway, on to the Woodsman Tavern, and a bit of background. I’m not a coffee drinker, in fact hot beverages in general are not high on my list, maybe because they torture my poor, tender little esophagus on the way down.IMG_2558 I am from Portland, however, and if you are from Portland, the coffee culture is constantly thrust in your face and you are always surrounded by fine coffee fiends. So even though I try to never drink the stuff, I know that Starbucks is marginal to decent, Coffee People is better (are those people still around now that Jim and Patty have their own place?) and by most accounts, Stumptown Roasters has always been close to the top when it comes local coffee roasters. Since I also read a food blog or two on a regular basis, I also know there was a major controversy this summer when it was learned that the owner of Stumptown, Duane Sorenson, had sold a major piece of his business to New York investors, probably to fund a major expansion throughout North America (are Canadians big on coffee, maybe it’s only the U.S.)

What, if anything, does any of this have to do with our recent dinner, you may ask? IMG_2555(Or what, does anything in this entire entry so far, have to do with our recent dinner? Nothing, but TOUGH NOOKIES, you try writing this mindlessly and aimlessly on a regular basis!!) Actually, Stumptown does have to do with The Woodman Tavern, as it’s owned by Duane Sorenson, is in the original Stumptown building on Division, and when people order coffee after their meal, they get really fancy joe.As far as the chef at the Woodsman Tavern, it’s Jason Barwikowski, one of the original trio at Olympic Provisions East. He had a falling out with his charcuterie cohorts about a year in, and left, waiting for a perfect opportunity to come his way, and somehow got connected to Duane Sorenson and the bartender from Laurelhurst Market, and the three decided to make a go of it together. A couple of months back I remember reading an interview with Mr. Barwikowski on Eater.Com, discussing the upcoming menu at Woodsman and bubbling incredible enthusiasm about his rare in these parts Wood Stone Josper Oven, and let me tell you, this guy was incredibly hyped and really loves experimenting with food. Although I probably would have hosted a dinner at Woodsman sooner or later anyway, reading this young dude’s comments on what he wanted to accomplish at his restaurant got me all excited (and hungry) and made me want to have our dinner there as soon as possible, in fact, within a month of opening.

Sometimes I don’t necessarily enjoy too much vintage decor and heavy wood all in one place (especially lumberjack decor, except in the mountains) but I really liked the vibe at the Woodsman, rustic but tasteful, with really great area lighting (except when it came to reading the dark colored menus, that part was an ordeal to manage.)IMG_2544 Another drawback, terrible acoustics, the space was incredibly loud, and sitting across the table from Glenda and trying to hear her was like watching a silent movie (okay, that’s as far as I’ll take that comment.) Also, there were other encumbrances this evening that made hearing at least half of “our crew” this evening impossible (we were 12+ bonus!) but I’ll get to that in the following paragraph. Everything else about the Woodsman Tavern I liked, though, and they had really pleasant, spacious uni-toilets that you could probably set up a homestead in.

Back to that “hearing” problem now.IMG_2519 As many of the restaurants that are opening these days are bar/tavern/restaurants, pop-ups (no, I don’t know what that means either) or brick and mortar offshoots of food carts, I never know how large these new places are, and how well they can accommodate a decent sized group. There are new places shooting up all over town all the time, and we just cannot go there, there is not the room available for over about six people at a table. I got the impression the Woodsman was a decent sized restaurant (decent sized for a group is usually at least 30-40 seats) and when I made the original reservation online, 10 was fine and dandy. I ended up having 11 people I wanted to squeeze in though, maybe even 12, and when I called them to talk about the reservation in person, they said it would be tricky, but that they would manage it somehow, probably by moving some stuff around.

Problem solved, or so I thought. About 3:30 on the afternoon of the dinner, however, I got the confirmation call, and was warned that we would have to be seated at two tables.IMG_2522 Although I didn’t get all testy or anything, I did express mild displeasure, saying it was going to make things difficult, as we were into major food sharing and massive conversation. They said the tables would be “right next” to each other, and that neither our sharing nor talking should be impeded in the least.  Somehow I envisioned two tables in a straight line, but once I got there I saw that unfortunately it was two tables side by side, with about a five foot gap between, meaning half of us would have our backs turned to the other half of us all night. One nice thing though, 2/3rds of the chairs were swivel (they looked like something from an old schoolroom) so at least turning to check out the other table was easy. So I spent half my night twirling.

Although at these larger dinners I try to do my best to get to the restaurant about 15 minutes early to check out the situation and get a prime earshod and photo taking seat (hey, I don’t just eat and play at these things, I work too)IMG_2521 I was only about 10-12 minutes early this night, and ended up filling the 6th and final seat at the first table (probably the best table of the two, as it was against the wall, while the other was hanging out closer to the door. Since no one had made it to the second table, until it was filled up, I ended up jumping up every few minutes to explain the two table situation and offer my apologies to my co-eaters. As it happened, though, everyone at the second table was an old hand at Restaurant Roulette, so they didn’t miss having my presence in the least (I refuse to believe they preferred it, no matter how much excessive laughter I heard over there.) One rather funny situation though, evidently the entry door on the left was locked, while the door on the right was open, so I got to watch everyone in the group who came after me and approached from the West struggle to try to get into the building, Liz and David being particularly amusing. Fascinating how people grab the door closest to them but don’t even try the one right next to it, assuming they are both locked and looking for another way in. (Well, at least it was interesting for me, as I approached from the East and had no struggle getting in.

In my review of the dinner at Lauro Kitchen, I mentioned what a fun group it was. As often happens with our group, although the components were actually much different this time out, it was another great combination of people. For IMG_2547the dinner at The Woodsman, eight people joined us who were not at the last dinner, but this combination of eatees was also a wonderful collection of humanity. As per usual, my always appreciated stalwarts were there, Glenda, David, Liz and Cora, and some occasional joinees (the three Halles) my first member ever, Michael (better a couple times a year than not at all) two really fun new folk who finally found a dinner that sounded good that they could fit into their schedule (after a year of RSVP notices) Tracy and Peter, and most breathtaking and gasp inciting of all, the Return of the Prodigal Parents, Tori and Dave, folks I last saw two days before the birth of their son, Kellen (now 28 months old) and whom the group had not seen for almost 3 years. With many people, if they had been gone this long, I would give up on them. But not Tori and Dave, the Lassies of RR members, faithful and dependable. Tori kept in touch, and I knew if these people told me they would be back, we would see them again. So exciting, The Return of Tori and Dave, practically Easter for the secular minded!

As it happened, the first five people that made it to the dinner before me were Glenda, Tori and Dave, and the new folks, Tracy (realtor) and Peter (physician) so these are the folks I spent my evening with, when I wasn’t swiveling and launching myself toward the other table to see what they were drinking, eating, and what I needed to take photos of.IMG_2549 Tori and Dave as parents, are very much like Tori and Dave as pre-parents, still kind, down to earth, and fun, and it was so nice to hang out with them again to hear about Dave’s pickle-obsession and Tori’s appreciation for Dave’s pickled products. Peter is Restaurant Roulette’s first native born Swede, which was fun, and I had the added security of knowing that should I choke on on a pesky fish bone in my trout, I had two doctors there at my table to accordion it out of me. Our table was the stately, refined bunch (of course, Glenda was amongst us, we had to be classy.)

IMG_2541Judging by the out of control laughter and drink swilling, the other table didn’t seem to miss my presence in the least, so should I decide to give up food, I know I can leave the group in the hands of David, Liz and Cora, and everything will be fine. Of course, that was the original Pickleback table, the group that started ordering the drinks that featured a shot of pickle juice and a shot of whiskey, so could this be why they seemed to be having so much fun?

Because of the lighting level and the browness of the paper, several folks, not just me, were having difficulty eyeballing the menu. IMG_2538Consequently, I didn’t even notice the Pickleback cocktail, I just saw something that looked okay to me towards the top of the list and ordered that, but Dave started enthusing about how interesting a Pickleback sounded, particularly after his recent extensive pickling escapades. Why he didn’t order one to start with I don’t know, but originally both he and I had an Alaskan Cocktail, a rather strong gin drink that was good but toe-tingling. Once the Picklebacks started arriving at the next table though (I think Liz and Cora were the first to slug them down) several people started pining away for at least the pickle juice part of the drink (As it happened,  the Woodsman was out of pickles, since several people at our table asked for some and were told there were none. Interesting, they must make their own pickles in house, then when they run out of the actual object, they just sell the juice part as part of a cocktail. I don’t suppose pickles are something that you can just whip more out of when the supply diminishes.)

When the Picklebacks first started making their appearance, I thought, eeewwww, how repulsive. IMG_2557I know that Andy Ricker of Pok Pok fame now sells drinking vinegars, and as a person who does not tolerate vinegar overly well, especially the smell, I find the entire concept quite unsavory. So at first I thought that was what a Pickleback must be like, all sweet and vinegary. Silly me, I guess I didn’t think of dill pickles, which are more dill-like than vinegar-like. Anyway, late in the meal Dave decided he could not live without a Pickleback, and ordered one for dessert, which of course then started Peter wishing he also had one (Sweden is big on pickled things, right?) so Peter had one too, his with a shot of vodka (those Nordic types.) The best part was watching people’s faces after they took a big slug of pickle juice, Dave’s was quite amusing, Peter’s was even funnier, and naturally everyone totally burst out laughing when they saw my face (of course I’m used to that anyway.) I didn’t actually order a Pickleback, but I finally could not stand how everyone was getting so excited and I wasn’t involved, so I took a sip of Dave’s juice. Okay, I admit it, not bad, refreshingly dillish with some saltiness, and actually quite soothing to the palate. Rather pathetically, when I made a burger the next week, and used the last pickle, I took a slurp from the pickle jar. Somehow it isn’t the same with Steinfeld’s Kosher Dills (although Tulip, my dog, burst out laughing when she saw my face.)

IMG_2550While our table was behaving with complete dignity, the “other” table seemed to be getting louder per drink delivery, with insane laughter, and at one point “someone” knocked their water glass over, creating a waterfall off the side of the table (you know how “those” sort of people can be.) It probably didn’t help them that because the people who sat at that table were the last to arrive, randomly filtering in, that they got a completely different server than our table, and any food at all arrived much later than ours (pure alcohol, no sustenance.)

Because we were so segregated on this evening (the good folks and the drinkers) I can only comment on a limited amount of the food ordered, as I didn’t hear many food remarks, except for some at my table, and even hearing those wasn’t that easy with the noise level.

One of the items The Woodsman Tavern specializes in is ham, strange in these here parts, where the only ham specialists appear at the mall around holiday time with those scary blowtorches of theirs. Woodsman has a ham stand, whatever the heck that is, and I guess it means they specialize in freshly sliced gourmet hams from all over the USA (sort of like in Spain, but this pork is probably chilled and not just laying there at room temperature with fur, hoof, and accompanying flies.) IMG_2536Tori and Dave generously got a deluxe ham platter for our table, which featured three different thinly sliced hams, and they were quite yummy, although I don’t know if I could tell them apart even if I was held at gunpoint by a demented Hamster (isn’t that someone who specializes in ham?) The bread and butter were also good (I think you had to order the ham to get any bread. Definitely a minus in Restaurant Roulette’s realm of incredible bread gobbling at every possible restaurant.)

I decided to start my evening with a “drinking snack,” the Deviled Eggs (technically deviled egg.) Although I didn’t expect too much for $2, somehow one egg split in two didn’t allow me much sharing with the rest of the table. IMG_2524It did make me start thinking though, if you can charge $2 per egg, that means I can start charging $24 for the beauties I sell from my girls at home. So keep that in mind, fellow diners who buy eggs from me, they are now $24 a dozen. Hmm, there’s a good way for me to fight this cost of living that thrashes me around at the grocery store weekly, if I sell three dozen eggs a week I can pay for almost all of my groceries! Getting back to our dinner though (rather than my fantasies of ripping everyone off) it was a good deviled egg, just the way I like it, tangy yolk,  but no weird ingredients like beet juice, coconut, or toasted toe nails. Since Thanksgiving was approaching, it also inspired me to make some deviled eggs at home ($10 worth) which were probably just as tasty, but which I didn’t charge myself a cent for eating. I did give my feathered gals an extra pat for laying them though. Too bad the feathered little monsters hate pats.

As I mentioned previously, it was really impossible for me to tell overly much about what was guzzled and eaten at the other table at least about 75% of the time.IMG_2556 I have compiled a list of what I think was ordered though, and a few comments pertaining to these foodstuffs I did hear or people made it a point to tell me (people, make it a point more often, then I won’t look like such a doofus, or so I will pretend.)

SMOKED TROUT AND PICKLED HERRING – Another really small plate I selected, which was almost sharable (this might be why only two others at the table partook.) IMG_2539I guess there was probably some difference between the two fish items, but I didn’t notice any. This might be because it was such a small portion, I only managed to eat one of the two fish, and then the other two people tasted the other fish (I think there were about four hunks.) Dave was one of the people who took a bite, and it didn’t seem like he was too overjoyed, as he exclaimed “I think that wrecked my palate.” Peter, probably an expert at various smoked and pickled species of fish, seemed to find it decent. The flavor of the pieces I had were pretty intense, tasting sort of like the inside of an inner tube smells. I wonder if the inside of an inner tube could wreck your palate?

PORK RINDS ALA KAHAN – Dave got some of these at our table, and I think David or someone got some for the other table (this is actually our second restaurant where Pork Rinds were on the menu and ordered, scary.)IMG_2526 These were the total opposite of those monster pork rinds at Gilt Club, as they were relatively small sized and somewhat yellow. I actually heard some favorable comments on them (maybe by the ever involved Dave again) someone certainly said they liked the cheesy dusting on the outside. As I think I mentioned before, if it’s not a BakenEt (?) Pork Rind, where it’s either rock hard, discolored, or you’re choking on the dryness, it’s not “the official pork rind experience.”

ROASTED BONE MARROW, PARSLEY SALAD – This looked nice.

CEVICHE OF BAY SCALLOP. MANILLA CLAM, SWEET PEPPER – It came in a pretty little purple bowl that I think was a cabbage leaf.

DOMESTIC HAM PLATE — SWEET BUTTER, BREAD, PICKLES -As previously mentioned, but they were out of pickles.

STURDY LETTUCE, SMOKED TOMATO RELISH, VALDEON BLUE CHEESE

TENDER LETTUCE, RADISHES, OREGANO-BUTTERMILK DRESSING, “SALLY LUNN” CROUTON

OZET POTATOES, CHANTERELLE MUSHROOMS, DOMESTIC HAM – Two people had this, Peter and Michael. It was sort of a burning hot casserole thingee, really rich and hearty, and Peter found his delicious.IMG_2532 I don’t know about Michael, I didn’t hear his feelings, as he was at the “Crazy Table.” One thing about Michael, he always tells me he likes the smaller sized dinners, but usually ends up coming to the bigger, out of control dinners. So maybe this was the best of both worlds for him, large group, but table of seven (the tables were set for six, but we had some interlopees.)

IMG_2548FRIED BRUSSELS SPROUTS, SUNCHOKES, PICHOLINE OLIVES, ANCHOVY-DIJON DRESSING – Although I know Glenda is not keen on items mentioning the term “fried” she’s big on Brussels Sprouts, and I’m pretty sure she had this. She seemed to be eating it just fine and dandy, and enjoying it, but for all I know she could have been screaming “I HATE IT, I HATE IT, and I never would have heard her.

CHICKEN LIVER TERRINE, RADICCHIO AND WATERCRESS SALAD, SHALLOT CONDIMENT _ Dave (yes, the PickleMaster again) had this, and shared it, as he thought the chicken liver terrine was exceptional. I had some, and I thought it was really yummy too, this and the Chicken Liver Pate thing I had at 3 Doors Down the best I’ve had in eons. Someone also ordered it at the other table, and I think Cora or someone mentioned they also found it outstanding. New useless factoid – I learned this evening that Dr. T is not a liver lover, quite a surprise, as she tends to like those earthy tasting delicacies. Big Bummer, now I can’t invite her to that Liverpalooza I was planning on having soon.

CHARRED OCTOPUS, CHORIZO, STEWED GREEN BEANS, INK SAUCE – Liz loved it!

WHOLE ROASTED TROUT, CRAZY WATER, CHERRY TOMATOES – I selected this, as well as Tori. I think we both found it good, if not as outstanding as some of the other richer, heavier items at our table. IMG_2551The fish was on the smaller side. I’m not sure what the Crazy Water was all about, it wasn’t that noticeable, it seemed more like something they were guzzling at the other table. Also, although I know they have just opened, if I was The Woodsman I would change this entree up a bit so that cherry tomatoes were not involved. Cherry tomatoes when it’s almost winter? They were pretty orange in hue. I don’t know how they tasted, as I am not a cherry tomato fan, so sent them back un-mangled and un-consumed, a total waste of tomato life.

FRIED PORK SHANK SAUERKRAUT, AQUAVIT-CRANBERRY GASTRIQUE – IMG_2554Peter had this, which seemed appropriate, as I had been having a conversation earlier with him and Tracy about Aquavit, as I recently bought some (locally made, Krogstad) and know it’s from those Northern European reaches like Peter is. I didn’t even notice the sauerkraut, but I did have a bite of the fried pork shank, which was absolutely delicious, one of the best things at the dinner.

SEAFOOD IN SHELLFISH BROTH, TOMATOES, GRILLED BREAD –IMG_2529 I think one of the Halle’s might have had this (???) I didn’t really get to talk to them much because they were at the end of the other table (some of the quieter folks there) but Melissa mentioned that their dining experience at the Woodsman was a good one, but they were disappointed by the wine selection (that’s what Picklebacks are for!)

ROOSTER, RED WINE-MUSHROOM SAUCE, CROUTON – This looked like a gigantic portion, but Dave said his wasn’t actually that large, it just had big bones and was propped-up by that crouton. IMG_2552Glenda took quite a bit of hers home though. I didn’t hear if it was extra tough because it was a rooster, or if it still had spurs. I think the hit of the night was Dave’s “Crouton” (yes, Dave, I know people are always admiring your crouton) which he incorrectly remembered as being a polenta wedge. He mentioned his polenta was the most amazingly fatty/delectable thing ever, and insisted I try some. It was so delicious, I insisted almost everyone at our table and most people at the other table needed to share a sample as well (Dave’s crouton went bye, bye in a hurry, poor Dave.) Cora said, “I don’t usually like polenta, but that is delicious.” Probably because it wasn’t polenta. I decided later it was a wedge of sturdy bread soaked in chicken fat during cooking, which is why it was SO tasty. I actually duplicated a similar bread dressing a couple of days later by cooking it under chicken thighs and adding lots of butter and chicken broth. So rich, so fattening. If this was combined with the pork shank, it would make the perfect gut-busting meal (but then you might need chicken fat to make the crouton, so maybe that would not work.)

FLANK STEAK, FRENCH FRIED POTATOES, BORDELAISE SAUCE – Everyone assumed I would have this, but as I’ve become worn out by all the places serving french fries, shoestring potatoes, and frites with steak, I didn’t even contemplate ordering it. David said his was good though.

This was an evening strangely devoid of dessert ordering, considering there were 13 of us. Dave and Peter had their Picklebacks, Tori and I each had an order of pumpkin bread pudding, Glenda had a chocolatey concoction, and someone had something like Panna Cotta (chestnut rings a bell.) IMG_2561I don’t remember if anyone at the other table had any dessert, but as Liz was there, it’s hard to believe nothing was ordered. Maybe she had the panna cotta. Three people at our table also split a pot of coffee, a very elaborate drippy presentation that people who drink coffee probably found common place, but I found as strange as an alien landing at our table and zapping all the juice out of some coffee beans with his death-ray and into a pot. I heard it mentioned it was really good coffee though. Way to go. Zork from Planet Java (or maybe he was just from Stumptown next door.)

Despite my anxiety over the two table situation, I thought this was a great dinner where almost everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, with boisterous laughter ensuing all over the place. It was SOOOOO nice having Tori and Dave back post young-un, and hearing how they’ve turned their basement masturabatorium into a cellar pickle palace, or something of that nature (I’m glad Kellen’s too young to read this yet.) IMG_2560It was also really fun to finally meet Tracy and Peter after a year of invites, I found them perfect for “our bunch,” and I hope that their intense work and travel schedules allow them to join us again before another year passes. And, of course, it’s always good when my original member Michael makes a reappearance, and we get to “reconnect” even though many times the dinners he attends are too big or crazy for us to actually do that (although this is the first time we’ve actually been at totally different tables.) Even if he can’t talk to wonderful folks like me, he usually seems to enjoy himself and his food, and there’s usually someone new for him to meet, even if he’s actually been with the group longer than anyone else, but me, me, me.

The Woodsman Tavern came across as another one of those places run by a bunch of younguns who hit the ground running and never look back. Except for minor annoyances like the table situation and little issues like advertising pickles but not actually having any, for being one month in, they really have it together. IMG_2534The atmosphere is great, the menu interesting, the cooking really good, and the service proficient. I would strongly recommend stopping in for either a snack and drinks or a serious meal. From Mt. Tabor to the river, Division is really picking up a reputation as a dining destination, and while the good places are a bit more widely spaced than on a restaurant row like NE 28th, Alberta, or NW 21st, there is great eating to be found from 52nd to around 20th. Interestingly, it all started with a cluster of places like Nuestra Cocina, Lauro Kitchen, Pok Pok and Pix, and has spread East, encompassing a wide range of fabulous cooking from a multitude of countries, as well as an assortment of wonderful Tavern/Bar/Eateries, including The Woodsman, Sunshine Tavern, and Bar Avignon. 10 years ago I can’t even imagine eating anywhere on Division, with the exception of that sweet little place that I’ve forgotten the name of, that was around 42nd, and had good food with second hand furniture in the back (WHAT was the name of that place, it’s going to drive me crazy now!!!!!!) And Clay’s Smokehouse has always been okay too. Otherwise, Division was a wasteland. Now look at it!!!! The Eastside Rules!!!!!

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