She’s Baaack!

As a “from the beginning” Portlander (my beginning, not the city’s) Ladd’s Carriage House is a lifelong memory for me. IMG_3265In long ago days, the intersection of Broadway and Columbia tended to be one of those you circled constantly, perhaps looking for parking somewhat near the movie theaters that used to line Broadway (I think they are all gone now?) or near the Paramount (the Schnitz) where you might be attending a concert and perhaps sleeping on the sidewalk the night before. The Carriage House was always there (unless you were born before 1883, not me) and while you never saw any activity there, you were happy to see it still existed, even with its somewhat gloomy charcoal and white paint job. As this isn’t Elizabethan England, the building was always a distinctive one here. Portland has been lame when it comes to cool looking timbered construction since the early 20th century, we used to have lots of cast iron (and still have a decent selection) but really no comparable buildings in the Ladd’s Carriage House style.

Yes, it’s true this building was erected to house horses and carriages for the mansion that used to sit across Columbia where that Chevron station has been abandoned for years. Can you imagine what this block would look like if the Ladd Mansion still existed? (Yes, thank god there’s an abandoned gas station there instead!) It seems an interesting juxtaposition though, from horsie stable to multimillion dollar eatery.IMG_3286 Luckily they cleaned up all the poo years ago. There was a time when some offices were in the building, but that seems to have ended decades ago, so all you had over the last 20-30 years or so was a fancy but drooping shell. I read a feature story with Lisa Mygrant, the owner of Raven and Rose, saying one reason the build-out of the restaurant took so long, 14 months, and surely cost so much, was because there was nothing really inside the building to work with, no ducts, plumbing or wiring. I’m not sure what happened to all the infrastructure after the offices moved out, maybe they were removed to make the building “easier” to move and to create more possibilities for a future buyer?

Of course, that’s the juicy part of “our” story. As many people know, there’s a really fancy and distinctive church on the Park Blocks side of this block, The First Congregational Church. They host lots of events there, so many that even I, who generally will not peek a toe inside a church building on American soil (love those Italian ones though!) have been inside to see/hear something or other. Anyway, these church folks own this entire block, and while I know they appreciate everyone appreciating their fine architectural gem of a church, when they needed to expand, they were fine with tearing down all the other historically satisfying buildings on this block, including Ladd’s Carriage House, the only building of its kind in Portland, and still in exteriorally (yes, I made that word up) good shape, like 120 years after it was built (hey, that’s good for us, this isn’t exactly Rome here, building inventory wise.)

Luckily Friends of Ladd Carriage House, or whatever the heck they are called, fought tooth and nail for years, and demolition was thwarted. Eventually a developer came up with a plan to move the Carriage House (which I think they bought for like 3.5 million dollars) build a parking garage underneath, tear down the fine apartment building to the north (another sad story, the loss of the beautiful Rose Friend apartment building) build the new spaces the church needed in an office tower on that part of the block, then move the Carriage House back from where it had been mothballed a few blocks up Columbia. IMG_3280There’s a really fun little time lapse video you can watch on the web of the building being packed up and moved down the street (what will they think of next, moving a bridge?) and the developer, Opus NW, did a really fine job. Unfortunately, they also did themselves in with this project, and during the recession went bankrupt. After that I think a bank took over the Carriage House ownership (and maybe the office tower) and although the outside had been beautifully restored with a golden brown paint job, it sat empty for some time. (Interestingly, the Carriage House is so old there are no photos to tell us what it originally looked like, but through paint striping or whatever, I guess they decided it was originally brown.)

Finally, Lisa Mygrant, a trained chef (and auto glass heiress from California) came to Portland looking for a restaurant space to buy, and was able to scoop up the building for a mere million, a paltry sum compared to what Opus had put into the restoration. As LCH is an historical property, and Ms. Mygrant is also into sustainability, she and her architect had quite a challenge, creating a space using LEED environmental building standards but still adhering to historical landmark guidelines (like re-purposing all sorts of the original materials, like the chimney they dismantled.) Add to this the idea of trying to create an interior at least somewhat resembling what interiors looked like in 1883, and you have an expensive and long-winded project on your hands.

As those of you connected to this group know, our senior, most stylish member, Glenda, got hit by a car while crossing the street the day before Thanksgiving, and has been confined to a rehabilitation facility since that unpleasant incident. Although still lacking mobility, her doctor had said slightly before Christmas that Glenda could go on short outings, provided she did so in a wheelchair (as she wasn’t able to put weight on her left leg.) Consequently, she RSVPed for our first dinner of the year 2013 (which I had not even selected yet) which turned out to be Raven and Rose. As my car is pretty small, with a very round trunk opening, I was a bit concerned how I would actually get Glenda to this dinner and back to her rehabilitation palace, as I didn’t think I could get a wheelchair in the vehicle. Luckily, Gina, a somewhat infrequent but always valued member, had shown an interest in Glenda’s condition, rehabilitation, and general well being, so she said she would go to the Raven and Rose dinner, and she and I could go together and get Glenda on the night of the dinner in her larger, very square SUV, which we did. Things got a bit discombobulated that afternoon, and we ended up running quite late, but Raven and Rose still welcomed us, at least 15 minutes late, when they saw me running down the street pushing Glenda in her wheelchair (it didn’t help the situation that I couldn’t figure out where the handicapped entrance was. As all of you can imagine, Glenda has a decent amount of dead weight due to her expansive hair and large glasses, so controlling her on wheels on sloped downtown streets wasn’t that easy. Luckily, she didn’t incur yet another injury.)

If it wasn’t for Gina this evening, I would have been up the creek without a paddle, as she was the only other person who attended this dinner. It’s true that  Raven and Rose had only been open one week on the evening of our dinner, but it really was a major opening on the Portland dining scene, so I’m not sure why I could only manage three bodies for such a noteworthy venue. This seemed to be only an issue within our ranks, however, as one week in Raven and Rose looked to be bursting at the seams with business, especially with what looked to be well-off Portlanders. Of course, it isn’t the cheapest place either (part of my attendance problem, I’m sure.)

So far, now three weeks in, most of the comments I’ve seen pertaining to visiting Raven and Rose mention that the food is very good, but the atmosphere in the dining room is a mixed bag. Many of the remarks have centered on the overly bright and harsh lighting in the main dining area, mainly spewing out of the open kitchen (crazy chefs who want to see what they are doing.) I had called in advance mentioning to note on my reservation that one of us would be in a wheelchair, so we were actually seated in the first table inside the door, far away from the open food prep area. Where we sat, right across from the pretty little downstairs bar, the lighting is actually quite dim, so dim, in fact, that I could not read the menus and kept grabbing the tiny candle to try to see, Gina finally giving me her mini key chain flashlight. There was a mondo sized gas lamp over in the corner, and some light spilling from the bar, but certainly no harsh lighting where we sat, and all the dark wood made it seem even darker.

I have read some complaints about the inside of Raven and Rose which might be true, but are probably unavoidable issues. Can you really make the inside of a modern restaurant look like it’s 1883, and have it as functional as it needs to be? (And if that is done, do you want to be eating inside an area that emulates a stable?)IMG_3272 I don’t know if building a restaurant from scratch in a historical property and LEED certification are really the easiest of bedfellows, so given how much money was invested in this space, they might have done the best they could to maintain both aspects of this Jeckyl/Hyde juxtaposition. Glenda was disturbed by the new looking windows, but airtight windows are mandatory when you are looking for environmental certification, and at least windows with multiple panes were selected (and things like windows were probably added when the building was restored, not during the restaurant build-out.) Someone, maybe PoMoMag, commented that the tables weren’t exactly fitting with the historical feel R & R is after, but it turns out the tables were chosen because they are supposed to last 150 years (another of those sustainability things) and I didn’t find them that bad, at least they were sturdy, dark colored, and not at all of modern design. I really wanted to go upstairs and check out the bar area with the fireplace, as I’ve read it’s really pleasant, but I didn’t make it up there. Gina did check it out, though, and she said it was rather disappointingly modern. I’ve seen more pictures of the second floor in the last couple of weeks and it does look awfully light and bright and new, and the high angled ceiling seems completely disconcerting in a historical structure. It looks like a modern ski lodge to me. I’m sure most of the stuff up there is more informed by LEED than old. It’s probably a pleasant enough space to have a drink in though, you just have to forget where you are.

There are lots of nice things about Raven and Rose to talk about as well. As previously alluded to, the bar downstairs is really pretty, with a hand hammered zinc top and other nice touches, almost all of the furnishings seem expensive and elegant, and the floor beneath where we sat was really unusual, a black and white sort of plastic looking material that appeared actually woven together. The gas lamps are nice, the booths are classy, and the tile in the bathroom is lovely, although perhaps not fitting for a Victorian carriage house. It may not be the most authentic 1883 restaurant there is, but it was created with a great deal of thought, love, and money, so should probably be appreciated as such. This certainly has to be the most cared about this building has ever felt. (Yes, I must think buildings have feelings, too!) Also, there is a wide variety of interesting dishware, my salad plate actually matched my salad. When’s the last time you saw that?

Finally, on to the drinks and food. When the fate of Carriage House was debated all through the first decade of the 21st century, I kept waiting to read that something good was in store for the building, especially after it was determined that the building would be saved, moved, and restored. When I finally started reading about Raven and Rose being developed, I wasn’t sure what to make of it, if the resulting establishment was going to be mainly about the space, or whether the food was going to be as important as the surroundings. IMG_3267Because of the name (echoing Rose and Raindrop and Elephant and Castle) and the fact that earlier some people had discussed moving the building to Lair Hill and making a British pub inside, I thought this might be the plan, to have a fancy UK style pub. When I read that David Padberg had left Park Kitchen to head the food program though, that John Gorham would be an early advisor on the menu, and that the classic centered drink program would be under Dave Shenault, probably Portland’s most well-regarded bartender (Beaker & Flask and recently Riffle NW) I knew that serious eats (and drinks) were in the making. Heavyweights like this don’t tend to get involved if they’re going to be pushing burgers, fish and chips, and pulling Guinness all night. Even when they opened, Raven and Rose was being described as a Gastropub, which technically is a tavern that sells high end food and beer, but it’s hard to believe that anyone could find any food on the menu you would associate with a pub, and while you might be able to have a quality beer here, basically Raven and Rose is a fancy dining room with a nice bar upstairs, which I suppose is somewhat pub-like, as it has pool and dartboards.

I read, about the time they opened, that R & R was going to be rolling out their classic menu of bygone drinks a few each week, but I thought what would probably happen was that they would keep adding to the list to make it longer, not taking some away when new ones came on board. I mention this because I had a drink all picked out in advance, a sort of delicate lemon and vodka thing, but it wasn’t listed on the specialty drink menu for this Friday. I know I probably could have asked for it and they would have whipped one up, but unfortunately I could not remember what it was called, I just saw that it wasn’t there (I saw that I didn’t see.) This is another of those places where most of the drinks scare me, too many nasty things like whiskey and bitters all over the place, so I didn’t have the easiest time selecting another beverage (especially as I couldn’t really see, being in what sounds like the only dark spot in the restaurant.) I suppose because some rums can be more neutral than those other nasty, strong tasting liquors, I decided on a rum drink, but there was nothing neutral about this particular rum, it was an ear slapper. The Slack Tide – Appleton Rum, Jack Rudy Tonic, allspice dram, old fashioned bitters, seltzer was so strong Gina could smell it where she was sitting, and while it wasn’t too bad tasting, it was plenty strong, and had me relatively loopy all night (yes, but what’s my excuse today?)

Glenda’s choice, the Buck n Breck – Remy Marten Cognac, Pernod Absinthe, Angostura Bitters, Argyle Sparkling Wine, was totally full of things I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole (or a ten foot tongue.) I forgot to ask G if she liked it (since, as we’ve established, I was loopy) or even notice if she drank it all, but I do remember she chased it with a nice glass of red wine (which was not a cheapie.) Gina, taking seriously her task of designated driver, decided to have a beer, and asked the waitress for advice on a “wheaty” brew. The waitress made a couple of comments, and Gina selected a beer, saying she wasn’t overly picky so would probably like it. The waitress came back saying she was misinformed on her recommendation, so brought Gina a taste of something else. Unpicky Gina said “ooh, that’s kind of weird” and it was decided she would order a different beer. If only they would do this taste thing with cocktails (or cake) the world would be a better place!

The waitress (who was sweet) started us out with out with one of those questions that you know means more than what she actually says, “would you like to start off with bread?” This is a bit unusual for PIMG_3270ortland, either bread is listed on the menu with a price beside it, or it just comes for free. I am highly suspicious of “bread service” after The Parish, where Sam asked for bread and three baskets were a dollar a slice for toasted, cut up hoagie rolls, but I was really hungry, and Gina had mentioned that she had been starving herself all day in anticipation of a fancy dinner, so I gave my go ahead, not knowing what it would cost, only that it was likely to cost. The basket of bread was really nice when it arrived, high quality, crusty white, high quality, crusty dark, and two kinds of incredibly thin, house made cracker bread, all served with delicious sweet butter, fresh ground pepper and coarse grind salt. The cracker bread, both a plain and orange colored version (cheese?) were really tasty, and we all would have liked an entire basket of that to ourselves. Glenda commented that she would have preferred if the salt and pepper were not in little bowls that everyone was supposed to shove their finger in (do you suppose she knew I had just been cleaning a chicken coop?) that individual would have been better, but it seems pretty silly to think the restaurant is going to have two little bowls for every parties salt and pepper. Whatever the case, although $4 is on the higher side for bread (if you take out The Parish, which was totally out of skew) it was worth the price, mainly because of  the delicious cracker bread.

I had remembered reading, that like the drinks, Raven and Rose was going to expand their menu gradually, first opening for dinner, then for lunch, and expanding all the menus along the way. Right now the dinner menu is pretty small, with about five starters, two wood fired oven specialties (seems like sort of a waste of the effort, we’ll assume they are going to ramp it up to at least three) and five main courses, one completely vegetable oriented, one fish, and the others meat. With such a small menu, if I was a waitress I would be dying to mention the specials, but we saw one on the chalkboard next to the bar (right next to the hand sketched raven and rose, which is nice) and I actually had to ask the waitress if it was “a salad or what” to find out about it. Raven and Rose had only been open a week, and I did see a couple of little flaws, service-wise, but this establishment has a decent sized dining room (supposedly 80) and judging by how busy the waitress appeared, the main issue seemed to be they might need another server. That was why the special wasn’t mentioned, the waitress was a bit harried.

IMG_3271I did think about having the special, Fennel, Blood Orange,  Boquerones (spanish white anchovies) and Kumquat Salad, because it sounded like such an interesting, uncommon combo, but I was already spending an arm and a leg, so decided on a cheaper salad.  Gina, splurging a little, because she doesn’t often do fancy type nights out for dinner, decided she would try it, especially since it sounded like it was slightly outside of her usual comfort zone (she didn’t think she had ever eaten an anchovy.) Anyway, Gina thought it was a good combo, and didn’t mind the anchovies, despite the saltiness. I had an anchovy too, and found them milder than usual, as boquerones are supposed to be (as they are treated differently than most anchovies, perhaps marinated in vinegar?)

Glenda, as I knew she would, decided on the Beetroot salad with walnuts, endive and goat cheese. Madame Goldwater kept making her uum, uum happy noises while she was a noshing, enjoying everything passing in front of her, by now worn out by the mundane asylum (sorry, institutional) food she’s been subsisting on during her confinement. She told me she going to scream if she sees one more bowl of gruel (or was that drool, she’s getting up there?)

I selected the Garden Greens with dried cherries, hazelnuts and Humboldt Fog goat cheese. This was a good salad, certainly in the mold of many of the tasty salads you used to find everywhere about ten years ago with the greens, nuts, goat cheese, dried fruit (and a vinegar based dressing.)IMG_3273 Which is not to say it was dated in any way, they were fine salads then (some of my all time favorites) and are fine salads now, with greens, protein, and sweetness. Most intriguing to me was how the salad plate almost exactly matched the salad, sort of a sage colored plate with maroon highlights, the very colors of the greens, cherries, and dressing I was consuming. In fact, R & R served our meals on all sorts of plates, some white china, some the salad matching stoneware, and other items coming on a different color variation of the same stoneware. Poor Gina, i noticed she was subjected to bland white dishware all evening. At least her food was lively!

I guess it’s not too surprising when your menu only has about five main dishes, but the three entrees we had this evening were the three I have read the most about.

Gina, who eats no meat, but will “do” fish, wasn’t that tempted by the roasted acorn squash, she doesn’t sound like much of a squash gal, so her other option was the Grilled sturgeon with clams, shell beans and green olives. I thought a bit about having this, as I love sturgeon, it’s a favorite of mine, but I tend to like it more basic, without such a fussy presentation (and I don’t want clams with sturgeon.) IMG_3274Anyway, Gina was quite pleased with the preparation, she said it was delicious, and she ate every bite. Of course this wasn’t a major feat, as this was a fancy presentation of wonderful flavors but somewhat small portions. Gina is a slender woman, and I’m sure she benefits much from healthy diet, which I’m mentioning largely because she commented on the fact that the portion was a tad on the light side, and I have seen her at enough dinners to know she is not a voracious eater (okay, that’s a description of me.) I heard a story on the national news last night on food waste that stated that  3 oz. of fish per person is enough for a main course, and this was probably around this amount. That being said, when you are going out to a restaurant and paying $25 for a fish entree, you hope it makes you feel pleasantly full at the end of the meal, especially if you have already eaten about four pieces of bread and a salad. So the sturgeon at Raven and Rose is very good, but the portion size could be amped up a bit.

IMG_3276Rabbit two ways (dead and deceased?)  biscuit, creamed kale, collards – If there’s one trend I’ve been seeing in Portland over the last year, it’s dead bunnies. Almost everyone has something incorporating rabbit, be it whole, made into pate, or ground into sausage. I know rabbits are ultra sustainable, and all that good stuff, but I just don’t like eating them, as not only are they so cute and soft, but they are also a bit gamey and stringy. This view is not shared by Glenda, who orders rabbit at almost every opportunity. As it happens, this has been Raven and Rose’s most well received dish, and according to Glenda, it was delicious.

My selection, the Beef short ribs, glazed root vegetables and Yorkshire pudding. I was a bit surprised to discover, even a well-seasoned (and eaten (well eaten? Maybe in a cannibal country)) traveler like Glenda didn’t recognize a Yorkshire Pudding by sight, both she and Gina pointed to my plate and exclaimed “what’s that? ” when they saw the item looking a bit like a tortured dinner roll (it was very pretty and lacquered looking for Yorkshire Pudding.) IMG_3277I actually am an old hand at Yorkshire Pudding, when I was growing up my father and I used to go to this colonial restaurant (don’t see many of those now, do you?) called Ye Olde Towne Crier, which was is S.E. Portland. It was scary, because it was filled with colonial woodcuts and other dusty decor, but some of their old fashioned food was decent, so I had Prime Rib there quite often. The Prime Rib always came with Yorkshire Pudding, although, like everyone else, I actually ate it one out of any 10-20 times. Basically, Yorkshire Pudding is alot like a flat tasting, crusty, tough dinner roll. I suppose the original concept back in the old days was that you used it to soak up meat juices, and if you didn’t have quite enough food to begin with, it would probably make you feel more full, as it’s sort of sponge like. Believe me, if your food is nice and ample, you probably don’t go near the Yorkshire Pudding (it’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that it’s much like consuming nothing, so what’s the point?)

As I have alluded to, the portions at Raven and Rose are not gigantic, so I did eat all my Yorkshire Pudding. I would have been happy to eat it all by itself, but it was somewhat gravy soaked, as that’s where they set it on my plate (I am not a person who soaks up anything with bread, unless it’s butter. No soaking for me! )IMG_3275 Considering the quality of the kitchen here, this is probably as good as Yorkshire Pudding gets, which obviously isn’t too great in any circumstance. It did look like a little hat though, which was nice. As for the short ribs, they were good in a short ribby kind of way (I’m not a braised short rib kind of person, as I don’t do overly cooked, braised kind of beef very well.) The portion of beef was modest (they should make the short rib the size of the Yorkshire Pudding, and the pudding the size of the short rib), but the glazed root vegetables were tiny, about the size of dice (no, not fuzzy ones)  and scarce. As potatoes, carrots, and whatever are cheap, they could probably throw a few more in the bowl, unless they are using gold plated glaze. Everything was good though, about as good as I would ever find a hunk of cooked to death beef (intentionally though) surrounded by a bunch of gravy, and a strange, edible hat/pudding.

Not tons of desserts to select from in these early stages either, but here’s what we had….

Chocolate stout cake with malted custard sauce – Glenda had this, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen her not like something chocolate. When they said stout, they weren’t kidding. Glenda’s comments were that it was too dense and didn’t have enough sauce. I did read a couple of comments saying that people liked this cake, so maybe it depends on if you end up with enough sauce. Anyway, Glenda mentioned it to the waitress, and they took it away and instead brought her the Cookie plate with hazelnut meringue, Milano, molasses spice, and  shortbread (more or less.) IMG_3281This is what I ordered as well, and while the cookies were pretty, the quality was sort of up and down (some were a tad dry.) I gave Gina the Milano, as I really didn’t need that many cookies at one sitting, and she said it was good, better than Pepperidge Farms (I didn’t actually know there was a Milano outside of Pepperidge Farms.) The hazelnut meringue looked hard to make, and was better than the average plaster-like cookie, as it had nice hazelnuts involved, but meringues really are never about flavor, they are more of a texture thing. The best cookie was the molasses, as it was soft and not dry, and tasty like a fresh molasses cookie can be. I chased my cookies with the Bourbon ice cream, which was nice and creamy, and luckily, lacking in most bourbon flavor (it had a slight flavor of booze.) Gina, being a modest eater as previously mentioned, had the most modest of desserts, the Clementine sherbet. She said it was really nice.

Anyway, here’s our verdict, one week in, of Raven and Rose. Service – good, if perhaps a tiny bit overwhelmed by immediate popularity, I’m sure many people just “wanting to see what they’ve done with the place.” As I said, the waitress seemed sweet, personable and conscientious, even if she did keep calling Glenda “my dear,” a grave sin in the Goldwater handbook (no honey, dear, darling, porkchop, snookums, and certainly NO TOUCHING!) The rest of the staff was very polite, seemingly awed by Glenda’s hair into thinking she might be royalty, and telling us when we left “nice to see you Miss Goldwater.”

IMG_3285Decor – nice enough, and adequately expensive looking. Almost everything I’ve read about Raven and Rose has complained about the “stadium lighting” and that the tables are too close together, even though it’s a decent sized place, but it struck me as a pleasant enough room to dine in, with relatively formal, tasteful surroundings. What do people want, perfection? This woman already dropped a bundle putting this restaurant in here, a feat no one else was willing to undertake, for years and years and years (although speaking of undertaking, it would have been a great funeral parlor.) I’m sure after a bit they will figure out how to turn the kitchen lights and the lights upstairs down a bit, then people will be more comfortable (although this could be another of these LEED certification issues, and that’s why these particular blinding lights were used.)

Food – I would say very good, but both the menu size and the portion size could benefit from expansiveness. As previously mentioned, David Padberg came from Park Kitchen, and now that I think of it, although the food preparation there was always delicious and interesting (one time I had roast pork with popcorn on top) the menu is always pretty limited in size.IMG_3283 I did read that next week Raven and Rose is rolling out a Happy Hour, so hopefully the regular dinner menu will be getting some added choices too. And while I know people like the Surgeon General and Michele Obama suggest limiting your portion sizes for your health, when you spend $10-$12 for a starter, and $25 for the average entree, you do want to feel at least pleasantly full at the end of the meal, and like dessert isn’t mandatory to make your belly feel happy. Although $25 isn’t outrageous these days, once you add a $10 cocktail,  a $12 starter,  $4 for bread, $7 or $8 dollars for dessert, and adequate tip, it really adds up. So throw in a couple more of those little vegetable cubes onto the plate, folks, and people will think the food is great.