That’s What I Felt Like When I Left This Restaurant

For a podcast on this dinner, and our group, look here:

First of all, let me just mention that as of July, this year, I have managed to keep this often leaky but always delicious boat afloat for 6 years now (okay, I know boats in themselves aren’t too tasty.) IMG_2990Ox was Restaurant Roulette’s 6th Anniversary dinner. If you didn’t get an invite to this dinner, please don’t feel discriminated against, Ox is a really popular place, and could only give me a limited amount of seats. As I had pre-RSVPs before the end of the Gruner dinner (the dinner before) our table was almost full before I sent out the notice. Thus the tightened reservation list. Don’t give up all hope, however, Ox was tasty enough we will probably schedule a second dinner before the year is out (providing Ox lets us do that. I might have to use an assumed name.)

Restaurants come and go all the time, especially in Portland, where they are opening every five minutes. Some are really tough to see go, as they hold so many good memories for you, Lauro Kitchen being the most recent case for me (although I must say that I liked it less after reading the owner say that he basically lost interest in Lauro, largely wanting to concentrate on his big money maker downtown, Nel Centro, a very corporate sort of dining experience.)IMG_2998 About eight years ago I loved Echo, a friendly neighborhood eatery on MLK that had good food and reasonable prices. That was before Portland’s dining explosion, however, where suddenly you had 50 restaurants with great food, and even a few with reasonable prices. Even worse for Echo, many were suddenly opening in the previously gritty inner NE area where it had previously been an oasis in the rough. Before you knew it, there were great places on Russell, Mississippi, Killingsworth, and Alberta, so Echo had to suffer in attendance, not helped by a decline in the quality of the food (they used to have my favorite burger) and new ownership. Then Echo was “closed for remodeling,” soon followed by closed forever. Although I had not been there for four or five years, I did have some sad moments thinking of the previous pleasant meals I had partaken of at Echo, such a cozy place, but these sad moments were mitigated by the slippage that occurred before they closed, and the fact that we have way too many good restaurants here, it seems like you are no longer able to patronize all of them, even those you have really liked in the past.

 I think the Echo building sat empty for nearly a year (the old brick building that Echo claimed in early days was a brothel.) My sadness at Echo’s demise was lessened somewhat, when I heard that Metrovino’s chef, Gregory Denton, was leaving the Pearl to open his own restaurant with his wife, Gabrielle Quinonez-Denton, in the MLK space, and was actually excited when I read the cooking style was going to be Argentine Grill.IMG_3013 If there’s anything we don’t have here, it’s full scale South American restaurants (I’m sure there are probably food carts. There are food carts with everything in Portland, even food carts run by guppies pushing fish food.) We do have Brazil Grill, but that place is so out of the norm, with its continuously circulating skewers of unevenly cooked meats. As many of you know, when Metrovino opened some years ago, it was supposed to be famous as the the restaurant with a million glasses of wine by the glass, but the importance of that development was quickly pushed aside once the place opened and people started tasting the food the Denton’s were producing from the kitchen in this out of the way Pearl spot. High quality, high class, and exceptional. Metrovino soon became a major dining force on the upscale Portland scene. I’m sure ownership sobbed a million tears when Denton and Quinonez decided to leave in tandem (although they did give notice, and stayed at MV for a transitional period.)

As much as I love the former Echo space, and its revitalization as Ox, I do wonder if the Denton’s selected the right spot for their fantastic palace of meat and fire, at 40 seats it already seems too small.IMG_3002 This might have been the building within their budget, and maybe a good location to install their amazing South American oven, logistics-wise, but like other Portland hotspots (Toro Bravo, Tasty N’ Sons, The Screen Door) good luck just popping in for a meal without a long wait, and 6 months from now, it’s sure to be impossible getting in, especially with a no reservations for less than a party of six rule. I did have a little clash with Ox towards the beginning of my dealings with them, and we were asked to leave at the end, but everything in the middle was so delicious, I can brush minor negativities aside (especially because we were basically table hogs.)

I knew Ox had to be a difficult reservation for a large-like group on a Friday night, so I made it a month in advance. The original reservation for 10, a decent sized group, and I had the choice of 6:15 or much later (8:30-9:30???) so I selected the slightly earlier than usual 6:15, as many of us are pretty old to be out after summer darkness falls (like on “Modern Family” when Cameron and Mitchell are trying to make a reservation at a L.A. hotspot and have two choices, 5:00 (what are we, 80?) or 10:30 (what are we, 20?) IMG_2996Anyway, just getting a group reservation on a Friday pleased me (some places won’t do it on a weekend) so, so far, so good. My feather ruffling came, however, when I called about a week later to find out if I could add two more seats, as I now had 11 people who wanted to chow down at Ox. The phone answering person, who I talked to both times, had no trouble upping the ante to 12, but said with groups this size, the restaurant would like us to have a fixed menu. WHAT? This was such an odd request, I had to ask her what she meant. She said she and I could look over the menu and select a few items for our party, and those were the items we would have to order. WHAT? She said it made it easier on the kitchen.

I’ve done like 115 dinners with this group now, and it’s never been suggested to me by any restaurant that I limit our options in any way. We are a diversified group, and we like to have free reign of all the majesty and bounty a restaurant has to offer. We know how to eat out, we want it ALL. IMG_2987I explained to the reservationist that this policy just would not work with our group, as some were vegetarians (at that time a non-fish eating vegetarian was supposed to join us) some of us feel bad about eating certain animals, others prefer seafood, and some of us were planning on gobbling meat all night long. I could not deny people their options. I guess she found my lack of acquiesce frustrating, or unusual, since when I said “how about if we go down to 11?” the real number of people I had at that time, she coldly said “I’ll put down 12” and abruptly hung up the phone. Hey man, I was only trying to be helpful, as she said the rule was for parties of 12 or more, and I really would have sufficed with the eleven I already had. In the end, I only ended up with nine, as two people flaked at the very last second, and have now been banished from survivor island, a drastic action I take sometimes when people fizzle out too many times, especially in an instance like this, where two people would have been happy to fill their seats, given more than an hour’s advance notice.

Although things have been rearranged a bit, the Ox space still reminded me of Echo. It used to be when you walked in the door, the first thing you saw was the bar. Now that’s the location of the inferno of all cooking desires (the special oven.) The bar has been moved to the NE corner of the space. Before Echo had these great big wooden booths in the large front windows with draping curtains. IMG_2997Ox has jettisoned the booths (they were really pleasant, but probably took up too much floor space) and have tables and a big blue/gray banquette running across the south wall with two and four toppers. Had I been concentrating more on the space and less on my dining companions (and the food)  I probably would have noticed a multitude of ways Ox is different from Echo, but just as the exposed brickwork always dominated the decor at Echo, it also dominates the surrounding at Ox. One thing that makes Ox completely different, the minute you enter, you smell that wood-smoky grilling aroma, it’s everywhere. A few people on Yelp!, who dined at Ox in the early days, said the smell made them cough, or made their clothes smell like a campfire, so I warned people coming to the dinner to not wear their fanciest finery (that was hard to clean.) Although that omnipresent  wood oven smell is everywhere at Ox, I never found it overpowering or pungent, it didn’t make me cough (and I have sensitive lungs) and it didn’t smell up my clothes at all. It smelled delicious all the time we were there, and went no further. I recently ate at the newer location of Podnah’s finally, and found the small very similar. The smell of tastiness.

I really do try hard to keep my masses of people organized and somewhat together to make it as easy as possible on the restaurants (even if I do reject fixed menus) but this dinner did not get off to an overly smooth start. First our two hung-over. last minute flakees (their excuse) left me with the two open seats when it was too late to fill them, then Liz got behind schedule and ended up late (but kindly called the restaurant to notify us) after that we feared Glenda, who was bussing it, would never show up (it turns out she didn’t actually know what time the dinner started.) All of this made for a lot of waiting around and staggered ordering, which led to us really occupying nine spaces at Ox for way too long on a Friday evening.

As this was such a festive dinner (6th Anniversary Party!!!) I really would have loved to have tried one of the fun sounding drinks at Ox, but Ox, like many of the places we have visited recently, isn’t exactly a budget meal.IMG_2989 Also, I was planning on having a top of the line cut of meat, so I had to keep it as basic as possible otherwise, a salad, my meat, a side order of potatoes (like many meat oriented places, everything is ala carte) and maybe some dessert. I think there are two kinds of people in this world, those who will sacrifice a drink to have dessert, and those that will sacrifice dessert for a drink, instead. So, what can I say, I may end up roly poly (we’ll pretend I’m not there yet) but I most likely won’t kick it from cirrhosis. And realistically, who can really say which vice is worse for you? It really depends on which health report you read which week.

Anyway, I ended up having an iced Mate’ tea, just as Sam did, who was sitting next to me. It looked really pretty, all bright and green, but it tasted quite lousy, totally lacking in the sugary ingredients I need to douse my tea with to make it ingestible. Since we were already keeping the waitress hustling enough, I didn’t want to ask for sugar too.

I had mentioned to Cora beforehand, who mentioned it to Liz, and to Peter when he got there, and David also, that Ox had a pickle back sort of drink, this one called Dirty Grandma Agnes (now isn’t that more colorful than “Pickleback”?) IMG_2985The Picklebacks were a big hit at our dinner towards the end of last year at The Woodsman Tavern, and all the pickle brine lovers were here again this evening, with the exception of Mr. Nunn (the pickle slurpers missed you, Dave.) The Dirty Grandma Agnes, named after one of the owner’s grandmothers, is described on the menu as:  Belvedere Unfiltered Vodka, Grandma Agnes Pickles. Where the “Pickleback” was a shot of whiskey and a shot of pickle brine, this was an actual cocktail, with the vodka and pickle brine mixed together, with a pickle hanging out of the glass. Sam only coveted the pickles, not the drink, and when she asked about them, the waitresses generously brought Sam several pickle wedges, which Sam shared. I’m not a pickle gal, so I only had a small slice, but the consensus was that it was an excellent pickle, and the cocktails were delicious. By the time Liz made it to the restaurant, she must have looked extra harried, as the waitress got her a drink with two pickles! Tracy also had a cocktail, inventive but lacking vegetables. Her drink was called the Scarlet Fever – Gin, St. Germaine, Cynar, Hibiscus and Lemon. It was a lovely opaque pink color, and I think she ready liked the mix, as she offered me sip. I thought it was good as well, certainly better than my nasty old tea. Glenda had a sparkling cocktail when she scraggled in, ending up ordering behind everyone else 20-30 minutes with both drinks and food, but Ox coped well with the situation, her food service soon ending up in sync with the rest of us (it could have been the fact that everyone ordered so many courses, but Glenda had quite a few too, and even ended up not touching one, instead taking it home for later.)

Ox bills itself as Argentine Portland Food, but still, when people hear Argentine and grill, they think the menu is going to be loaded with beef and other heavy meats. It’s true, Ox does have a wonderful selection of beef items, but believe me, this place knows its way around a vegetable too, and any vegetarian could have a really complex and filling meal here, as the grill does wonderful things with all sorts of cookables. Also, although this might seem to be the polar opposite of Greg Denton’s last cooking job at the sophisticated Metrovino, this is a chef skilled in cooking sophisticated, original cuisine, no matter if his primary tool is a gigantic grill or a cooktop. IMG_3008The menu at Ox can be a bit confusing, as all the vegetables are lumped together under the section called “From The Garden,” so it’s hard to know a starter from a side dish from a salad, but the servers appear used to answering multiple questions, and the one common denominator seems to be that everything is a really large portion, especially the salads, the small being really more than one person needs and the large feeding at least four. Also, many of the items come in both small or large portions, and if you got a “small” salad and one other of the rich starters, it’s hard to imagine needing more food, except perhaps a dessert (yes, we’ve already established I always need that.) Of course I took a much more glutinous path than a salad and a starter, but I HAD to enjoy the whole Ox experience (something our group makes very possible, with everyone ordering so many items.)

Ox started us out this evening with a complimentary Amuse Bouche, this evening a very smooth, chilled asparagus soup that you slurped out of a little glass beaker (candle holder?) IMG_2992Most people thought it was tasty, but is common with me and many asparagus purees, my first thought was, needs salt and pepper. Totally unusually, Liz who was sitting next to me, and embraces trying almost all non-shrimp foods, didn’t like it and wouldn’t finish it. Cora downed the rest for her, as she loved the green concoction. Ox also provided chewy, mini loaves of bread, which we had to rip apart like savages (hey, the place is called Ox, you expect delicate?)

Several of us wanted to start with salads, and Ox had a couple, both big and bold, in portion and taste. Sam ordered the larger size of the Grilled radicchio, arugula, chevre, grilled corn, and toasted garlic-anchovy vinaigrette. She passed it around, and after tasting both salads I think it was the better of the two on the menu, and the chevre was incredibly tasty, so mild.

The salad I selected, which David and Shuhong, and I think maybe Liz ordered, was the Green Kale, gem lettuces, feta-ranch dressing, fried chickpeas, kalamata olive, and strawberries (replaced on this evening by seasonal Bing Cherries.)IMG_3000 This was an incredibly inventive salad, full of textures and tastes, the crunchy fried garbanzo beans, the juicy cherries, and unusual flavor added by the olives, very unique, and good, although even after I shared a good bit, so large I had a hard time making it through the whole thing.

Peter and Tracy started out with the grilled artichoke with espelette mayo, two large halves and the aioli like dipping sauce. This was one of the most beautiful things at the table this night (and Ox produces some attractive food) not only because of the naturally attractive nature of the artichoke, complimented with a lovely char, but because it was sprinkled with bright little marigolds and other colorful flowers. IMG_2995So pretty. Today I was talking to a woman along one of my walking routes about the monster artichoke plant in her yard (30 artichokes!) and she said that even though she really liked artichokes, it almost wasn’t worth the effort to eat them, and that was what I was thinking during this dinner, watching Tracy and Peter eat theirs, ripping off all the little armor plates for a tiny little bite at the end. I’ve never really been an artichoke person (that would be really uncomfortable, to be an artichoke person) but I did sample some, as they were sharing with everyone, and I suppose with the smoky flavor, it was about as tasty as an artichoke could be. They said it was especially good when you got to the extra flavorful center portion. Glenda also got an artichoke in the half portion size, but she had way too much food, so took it home for later, the flowers undisturbed.

Another interesting starter this evening, which Cora couldn’t resist, was the Ash roasted Willamette Sweet onion, fourme d’Ambert blue cheese, english peas and toasted walnut. IMG_2994This is a good example of the observation I made earlier, about vegetarians having all kinds of interesting options from Ox. Another observation, obviously fresh English peas are in season right now, as they were generously used in two dishes at the table this evening. Ox is not a good place for pea-haters in the early summer, I guess. It would have been interesting to know what an ash roasted preparation entails, whether it means the onion was roasted in ashes, or if it was roasted until the outside of the onion was covered in ash. At least for now, I guess that will have to remain one of life’s mysteries. It was delicious though, so whatever they did must have worked.

Cora, who clearly had an earthy, meaty upbringing, is famous for loving tongue, so she was very enthusiastic toward the Smoked beef tongue on vinaigrette with horseradish, ensalada rusa and sweetbread croutons. It’s hard to say which item I would pine away for less, the beef tongue itself or the sweetbread croutons, but I did take a modest bite, and didn’t hurl, so it must have been quite decent.IMG_3004 After this, Cora went for the House Morcilla – blood sausage, which really was several hunks of blood sausage, not very well disguised to look like anything else. We actually had two orders of this at the table, perhaps it was a favorite of Peter’s when he was living in his native Sweden, and he jumped on it as well, as he seems to like those sausages. I know budin blanc and budin noir have been relatively popular here at fancy restaurants the last couple of years, but it still is not a taste I have managed to acquire. As Liz put it, rather perfectly, too ironee. Here you would think I’d enjoy an ironic sausage, but maybe it just goes over my head.

I’m pretty sure Cora ordered yet another item, the Sauteed mushrooms, foie gras, spring onion, and spinach. This woman’s wallet must have looked like a black hole at the end of the evening, although she didn’t have one of the major steaks, or dessert either, so maybe her bill wasn’t any worse than mine. I think I had a bite, but everything toward the middle of the dinner sort of runs together, as there was so much sharing at our table, you could have come with an empty plate and gone home stuffed.

Fried shortrib terrine, frozen pea salad, baby carrots, verjus lemon aioli.IMG_3005 This dish was a mystery to us for awhile, as Glenda ordered it in a hurry (maybe she asked the waitress for suggestions?) then when it came she had no idea what it was. Everyone kept asking, “hey Glenda. what’s that?” her reply being that she didn’t know. Even after having a few bites, she was not sure. Finally she got a hold of a menu, or asked the server, or that lightbulb above her head came on, and she told us it was beef. Liz had an order towards the end of the meal, and it was really rich and flavorful, as many items involving short ribs tend to be. Also featured, yet more masses of English peas!

IMG_3014Liz was also doing the multiple small plate thing, and she ended up with one of the absolute tastiest things at the table (and there were lots of those) the Maitake mushroom with smoked sea salt. This mushroom preparation (one of three on the menu) was incredibly smoke flavored and meaty, certainly the kind of dish people have in mind when that want to use a mushroom to resemble beef. The texture was wonderful and the flavor was wonderful, and Liz said it was the best thing she had all night.

Now on to those major meaty bits ….. after first discussing our major side dish.

As mentioned before, everything at Ox is ala carte, so if you want some starch or other accompaniment with your meat (as I always do) you have to order it. For $5 though you get quite a few of the house specialty Fried Yukon Gold potatoes with horseradish aioli, and dill, which were very good, and for a few dollars more, you can get a large order of spuds, which feeds at least 4 people.IMG_3007 As I got a small and David got a large, everyone who wanted potatoes with their meat had some, and there were still potatoes coming out of our ears (the horseradish aioli made it really difficult to hear anything, except the occasionally blaring rock music that often was not in the background at all. Sort of like that occasionally loud rock at Beast, although here there is also some more salsa oriented stuff as well, much better. It’s not that I don’t like rock, but salsa was more appropriate to the cuisine, and the Steve Miller Band made me want to gag on my otherwise delicious food.)

Here’s those Ox eats that screamed Argentina, several different cuts of beef, all served with their deliciously parsley and garlic version of Chimichurri.

I have read in several places that although the cut is not as expensive as the higher end offerings, that the grilled Beef Skirt Steak at Ox is wonderful, one of their most highly recommended items, in fact. Shuhong ordered this for her main meal, and when I asked her what she thought, she said it was “okay”, not exactly the highest praise ever imagined. IMG_2999According to her “escort” David, Shuhong loves really spicy, intensely flavored food, and although vaguely South American, none of the food at Ox comes across as overly spicy, the flavors at Ox are what is brought out in the food and what is added by the oven, not what is modified with spices. So it sounds like Shuhong’s major feeling was that what she received was mainly well prepared beef, with nothing particularly intense about it

David, who likes both spicy and less spicy food, was much happier with his beef preparation, the Flanken style beef short rib.IMG_3009 Although I love to eat them and buy them to grill, I’ve never been quite sure what makes these thin and bony ribs “flanken.” It turns out that description merely refers to ribs that are cut across the bones, rather than parallel to the bones. It’s true that you get at least as much bone as meat, and that the meat is often quite chewy, but I love the way Hawaiian and Korean cuisine make use of this rich cut of beef (like tiny rib steaks!) As he was a        ways down the table from me, and the dinner was very noisy, I didn’t hear if there was any preparation or rub on the rib slices, or if they were simply grilled, but David said they were delicious, although he thought the big, honking steaks looked best.

I traditionally blanche at any entree $30 or more, but I occasionally break down if it’s a ribeye, especially if it’s at a place who specializes in steak. Also, if you compare what you get at Ox for $30 or $35, opposed to a probably less well prepared piece of beef at one of the famous steakhouses (no, I’m not referring to Sizzler) the price is actually relatively “reasonable.” In the beginning, I think Ox primarily featured a standard, American cut of ribeye, but they have recently added a second Uruguayan ribeye, this one being leaner and grass fed. IMG_3011I asked the waitress what the difference was, especially as you would first assume the imported beef would cost more (it’s $30, and 12 oz., opposed to the 16 oz. standard at $35.) Since the Uruguayan ribeye was grass fed, the fat content was less, and she explained the meat would be earthier and less marbled. The standard ribeye (perhaps corn fed) would be more tender, with much more fat (from the sizes, most likely about 4 pounds of fat, yikes.) I suppose if you are not a big beef eater, you might wonder why someone would pay more for a higher content of “unhealthy” fat and less meat on their steak, but ribeye needs a decent portion of fat for flavor, just like very lean prime rib can be tough and bland (since it’s the same cut of beef before it’s cut into steaks.) I guess that’s why three out of four of us had the fattier ribeye.

Sam, who isn’t always keen on eating animals, evidently doesn’t have quite as many issues with beef as some other creatures, as looking at a steak never seems to remind her of a pocket pet and reduce her to tears. Now and then she goes all out and has a steak or a burger. She debated back and forth, and finally decided she would try the imported Uruguayan grass fed Ribeye. She’s an earthy girl, and as it was a beautiful cut of meat, well prepared, I think she enjoyed it fully, kindly sharing samples around the table.

Tracy, Glenda and myself all splurged on the more fat-prone, less earth friendly standard ribeye. Although normally I would be suspicious of a ribeye that is sliced in big, beautiful hunks (suspicious thoughts would include, is this really a ribeye? are there grain and toughness issues? and is this really a complete steak???) IMG_3012I think Ox just does this to make the meat look more impressive, or maybe it’s the way they do it in Argentina, all splayed out on the plate, from lean to fatty. Whatever the reason, this was a delicious steak, charred slightly around the edges, cooked to perfection, with a whole selection of fatty areas to choose from (I actually left at least 1/2 my fat on the plate, a record.) Why pay more for fat you leave on your plate, the thrifty or health conscious might ask. Because it gives the surrounding meat richer flavor, I would reply. As my co-diners in this group would attest, I’ve eaten a whole lot of steak in my six years hosting this group, and off the top of my head I can’t remember having a better steak, although the Smoked Coppa Steak at Toro Bravo is always wonderful as well, but not as genuine to the true flavor of the beef as this simply grilled steak at Ox. In fact, the steak was so good on its own, I forgot to add any Chimichurri, although I tasted it on a hunk of bread earlier and thought it was really nice.

For the first few months Ox only had about three desserts. a pudding, a cake, and a torte, but looking at their web menu tonight, I see that they added a couple more, a “Buckle” and something they call “Magic.”IMG_3016 A place like this probably doesn’t need many desserts, as people get so stuffed on the generous portions that come before, few probably make it to dessert comfortably. I shared quite a bit of my steak though, and didn’t have a drink so I could afford an Ox dessert, as i had read good things about the sweet creations here, even if there wasn’t a whole long list to select from. I was a little disappointed that my fellow dessert mainstay, Glenda, declined (she said nothing struck her as perfect to finish her meal) but luckily Sam was there, who loves desserts, especially South American kinds of desserts, so I did have a dessert cohort.

As it happened, Sam and I both decided on the same dessert, the Torte – Warm hazelnut brown butter torte, honey-chamomile ice cream, honeycomb candy. This might have been a let down to the rest of the table, as Ox was very generous with the silverware, so anyone who wanted to try a bite could (yes, we actually shared.) The honey-chamomile ice cream was really silky, and the rather plain “cake” had a really unique browned butter flavor, not particularly sweet. What really made this dessert was the honeycomb candy, which had a really unique texture, both crunchy and crumbly at the same time. Liz found this so unique that she voted the brown butter torte dessert her second favorite thing at this dinner, after her delicious mushrooms.

We had such good food and a fun time at Ox, I guess we tarried a bit too long, enjoying some pleasant after dinner moments. I kind of looked around to see if I saw a bunch of people waiting at the door, or pacing staff, but I didn’t observe this. I was thinking about asking the waitress the next time I saw her if we needed to vacate the table, as seven of us were still lingering and talking, but I really didn’t have the opportunity to, as the next time I saw her she came up and requested we leave (that’s us, OCCUPY OX!!) I really didn’t blame Ox for this, the beginning of our dinner so was fragmented from late arrivals, we were there, hogging nine places worth, for over three hours. I understand their dilemma, it was fair of them to hint, or say something, and while we should be respected as good patrons, fair is fair, and other people wanted to sit down and eat at this busy place. That being said, I wish the waitress would have approached her task with a bit better diplomacy, or at least better wording, I can’t remember precisely what she said, but it was close to “we’ve tried to be patient with you, but other people have been waiting, and we need you to leave.” Just not that customer friendly. It was like we were being scolded. Ox should have a standard line to roll out when table hogs like us are in attendance, something more like “we’re so happy you’ve enjoyed the food, and it’s been fun serving you, but it would help us out if you could give your table up now, as some others have been waiting for a bit.” The waitress was very competent, but somewhat  brittle at times, and she acted a bit like a testy librarian booting us out for being rowdy (the Glenda Goldwater story!!) That and the thing with the reservation/fixed menu situation added a tiny taint to an otherwise fantastic meal, which bums me a little, because I loved Ox so much, it’s a wonderful place to eat.

Ox did so many things right though. They divided the check as many ways as we wanted, despite the fact that they said this was not their normal policy (I did try to help them out by asking as many people as possible to bring cash, but that’s not easy when everyone’s bill ends up between $75-$100 each.) Despite their trepidation, Ox did a great job delivering our varied menu to our table in a timely fashion, the kitchen never seemed overwhelmed (although who knows what this did to the rest of the diners.) They are a generous restaurant, with free bread, extra pickles, and hearty portions. The service was quite good, and most of the staff appeared nice. The setting is really pleasant. They have Ox T-Shirts you can buy, the same worn by the kitchen staff. The cooking is delicious, accomplished, and inventive, and the cocktails are fun and interesting. Food Dude at Portland Food and Drink recently ran a collection of readers surveys highlighting the best of almost everything in Portland food and drink, and for Best New Restaurant, Ox came out #1, after only about three months in business (another group favorite, St. Jack, came out #2, although they must have been open very close to a year now, if not 18 months.) Ox is really a crowd-pleaser. Ox “rules to live by”  – come in groups of 11 or fewer, have a pickle drink, enjoy delicious eats, buy a T-shirt, and leave in a timely fashion. Then everyone will be happy!!!!