The Curse Of The Overdressed Salad!

I know you hear it all the time, what an exciting dining town Portland has become over the last few years. We have so many wonderful ways to buy, experience, and even grow great food in this area.IMG_3316 Over the years my members and I have talked about how much fun it would be to go to wine country, have some sips, and eat at one of the interesting sounding restaurants in the valley. Never made it though, largely because of the drive, and the thought of that fun 99W traffic, and because I’ve been too lazy to do the additional work to make it happen. Not to fear, though, this is Portland. You can actually have a French wine country themed dinner at one of the wineries in the gritty SE Industrial area, and be home in 20 minutes. Sometime last year (Fall, I think) the Fausse Piste Winery opened their own restaurant called Sauvage, and although it looks like it’s still relatively lightly patronized, it’s a fun place to grab some drinking snacks, some heartier plates, and some lovely wine sips. And, it’s at SE 6th and Ash, in the same building as the always modest J & M Cafe, just a block or two off Grand Avenue. It’s very indiscreet location, so it helps to know where you are going. They must have seen us coming though, as when Glenda and I approached the door we found it locked on the outside (but not on the inside?) and I had to yell in the window that someone needed to let us in (Glenda said to tell them there was a disabled person outside. Milking her injury, I guess.)

IMG_3305Anyway, for whatever reason, our group seems to be suffering from a reverse-kick again, so there were five of us for this dinner (2012 was up in attendance, so I guess the law of averages for independent dining groups would indicate 2013 could be an “off” year. I DON’T WANT OFF YEARS !!!) I did have my first member ever, Michael, rejoin us for this evening, however, so that was a good thing. Incredibly, he had already been to Sauvage once for happy hour, amazing since almost no one seems to have heard of or know where Sauvage is. David and Shuhong also joined us, so at least we were a bit groupy, even if we looked a bit diminutive huddled around the end of the community table.

IMG_3313Sauvage is sort of daylight basement level, so it’s somewhat dark and cozy. If you look through the doors off to the side you can see giant barrels of wine. The decor is pleasant enough, sort of rustic with dead animals and such hanging from this and that, not a really fancy space, but pleasant for both a glass of wine or a casual meal. The menu is quite interesting, made up of small plates and a tasting menu that is available if everyone participates.The cooking style is billed as French Farmhouse, and is an interesting collection of down home (Smoked Chicken Wings) and fancy (Roast Quail Skillet.)

Well, what can I say about our stylish friend Glenda, except that she can be a “tad” bit demanding at times? Previously I had talked to Glenda, and others, about what they thought of checking out this restaurant at the Fausse Piste winery. IMG_3310I think Glenda had read a story about Sauvage, and thought it was an excellent idea, especially as the food was prepared with French country influences. Obviously, Glenda has not had the best go of it since her pre-Thanksgiving day incident of being steamrolled by the vehicle, still being “incarcerated” at the rehabilitation facility when this dinner took place. My idea, let’s have this winery dinner now, as this will bring a bit of joy into Glenda’s currently drab life, as it involves an outing, wine, and French, all favorites of the Goldwater one! Naturally, the one thing Glenda turned out to want on this evening out was hard liquor. She seemed quite crestfallen. Now to me, non-fashion maven and briefest of France visitor, winery would imply wine only, this wasn’t House Spirits distillery.I don’t know why she thought there would be actual booze. I felt like I had wrecked her life. (It turns out Glenda had experienced an adequate supply of vino in rehab (trapped in the Mirabella) but that this fancy S. Waterfront Condo/Rehab. for the gentrified doesn’t have a cocktail bar onsite. And to think they call themselves healers?)

Anyway, eventually I did get missy sober and scrappy calmed down enough to peruse the wine list, and after throwing multiple suggestions her way, she settled on some bubbly, which from the bill looks like it was Chateau Des Vaults, Brut Sauvage – Loire, France.

One of my favorite wine varieties is always a nice Voignier, so I asked a staff member to explain a bit more why the Fausse Piste Voignier was labelled “mineral,” as I’m too much of a wine neophyte to know what that means.IMG_3297 I do remember my reaction, however, when I went and sampled the mineral springs, Iron Mike, above Carson, Washington, which was blech! I was told this wine would taste pretty mineral, so instead I decided on Fausse Piste, L’Ortolan Roussanne – Portland, Oregon, once it was explained that it was indeed a relatively dry white wine. I was told in would be somewhat similar to a chardonnay, and while I find those all over the map, I did find this a nice glass of white wine, not harsh in the least, and I was happy to support an in-house product (so if anyone wants to send me a bottle, be my guest.)

Here are the rest of the wines from our evening. As they are all red wines, and I don’t do those because of my throttling acid reflux, I’m not sure who had what or which were the best, I think perhaps the Drinksnob.TV, Poboleda – Prioray, Spain was blended by one of the owners of Sauvage, and got high marks from Glenda. Aforementioned individual also came to our table and told us about the growing region in the Pyrenees where the wine is harvested, and the special soil, and other interesting vintner facts that illustrated his passion for his craft. The other red wines were …

Clos de la Briderie, Villes Vignes – Loire, France

Sassotondo, Ciliegiolo – Tuscany, Italy

Montesecondo, Chianti Classico – Tuscany, Italy

Although I’m sure Glenda enjoyed visiting the outside world this evening, and seeing life outside of her rich person’s torture palace (do you suppose all the Mirabella people feel that way, including the one’s that spend $700,000 for their condo?) she seemed to be having an off night, and while she enjoyed her multiple glasses of wine (she admitted to feeling a little sketchy on the way back to her accommodations) she and her food did not seem in sync. IMG_3301She started with the “Market Salad with Apples and Nuts” which was nice and big and looked tasty, but according to Glenda was horribly overdressed (eekkk.) I always prefer an overdressed salad to an underdressed one, but I suppose if the taste of the dressing is overcoming any flavor you might derive from the greens, fruits and nuts, you might take umbrage! And umbrage Glenda took. The waiter offered to bring a shop vac over and suck off some of the dressing, but that was a no go. Actually, I think that was when I sipped my wine a bit too fast and went into a psychotic trance. What actually happen was that Glenda complained, the waiter apologized, he offered to bring Glenda another, less dressed salad, but Glenda had lost her salad eating inspiration. It was a little odd for Mme. to not select something else, as the waiter offered, as the menu was full of small plates that screamed “European.” Evidently Glenda just could not recover from having her evening throttled by no hard liquor. Yes, I am to blame.

While Glenda was sitting there, chewing on air and feeling disappointed, the rest of us had some tasty treats. Although originally David had a different list of what he and Shouhong would order, once I mentioned it was on my list, David ordered the “Chicken Liver Mousse with House Pickles and Crackers.” IMG_3302Although they were good, these were about the crispiest crackers ever, breaking them apart was murder, and when I offered Michael a sample I practically lost an eye from flying cracker shards (they were much like REALLY crisp flat bread or laminated pita (texture wise, not taste.)) The pickled things were nice, colorful items like beets, onion, and apple (which Michael thought was Jicama, I think because of the really rigid texture.) I asked the waiter what was on top of the mousse, because it had a dark reddish shell. I think he said it was a wine gelee, which you mixed in for additional flavor. Despite the danger in trying to actually break those stubborn crackers, everything was good, and the mousse was delicious.

1/2 Dozen Oysters with fine herbs and granita – David found these fresh and ocean-filled, but perhaps more ocean filled than his taste buds enjoy.IMG_3303 While he said they seemed like they were fine quality, like many people her prefers a bit of lemon, horseradish and cocktail sauce with his oysters, so the very basic nature of these oysters was a bit off-putting to him. Hey, BUD, no one said they were oyster shooters. Sauvage is a classy place. What will you want next, jello shooters?

Kobe Beef Carpaccio with Crispy Shallots and Kale – this was a pretty plate of raw beef laid out in a circular fashion with the kale. Shuhong found it absolutely delicious, which made me happy, as most of the foods created for our wimpy Western palates tend not to excite her. She liked at least three things she had this evening, so this was a big score. Even with his wimpy Western palate, David also enjoyed the Carpaccio, and luckily he was able to withstand all the bovine tastiness his mouth was experiencing, as we wouldn’t want his tongue to experience flavor whiplash when he started eating more of our usual, more mundane foods.

Smoked Chicken Wings with Blue Cheese and Slaw – Call me tacky (a first) but this was the best thing I had all night, they were delicious. The waiter said they cooked the wings for a bit, sprinkled them with blue cheese, then smoked them briefly. At first I was thinking this sounded backwards, you would want to smoke them, then cook them, but hey, that would probably give everyone salmonella, which could be why I’m not a chef (and am often blue around the gills after eating my own cooking.)

Okay, so much for delicious food bites, another episode of that wrenching saga, ” items people did not seem happy with at all.” Yes, and once again, starring our guiding light of fashion, Glenda! There was really quite an assortment of richer plates I thought Glenda would adore at Sauvage, things like “Pheasant Dumplings”, “Cod En Paupiette” (I don’t know what that is, but all that’s important is that it sounds French) and “Breast Of Lamb”, and even her choice, “Roast Quail Skillet with Boar Cheek and Tolosa Beans” sounds like it would have been a home run to me.IMG_3308 Obviously Sauvage gets many suspicious diners, or people that don’t know what a tiny bird a quail is, because when the waiter put the small little burning hot skillet in front of Glenda, he mentioned twice that there was an entire 1/2 a quail buried under all the other casserole type ingredients (what, do people shriek “where’s my quail? Give me the bird!”) I think Glenda does know what size a quail is, so that was not her issue. She took a couple of bites, frowned, and said “I don’t think these people like me.” She then just picked at her plate a bit more, and stopped. I’m not sure what her issue was, but Glenda is a hearty eater, so it is unusual for her to leave a plate full of food. When everyone else’s plate was empty (and they were totally empty) the waiter came and noticed that Glenda had not eaten much, and asked her if she wanted to take her dead, petite, game casserole home, but she firmly refused. I think the waiter thought about asking if something was wrong, but thought it better not to after the great salad debacle.

Rather oddly, on the way home, I told Glenda I was sorry she had not liked her food. IMG_3307She said, “oh, I liked the quail, I ate that.” I told her I thought she did not like it or eat it, but she said she liked it. Maybe she had eaten the quail, but not the beans and other casserole items? Or maybe she did not want to come off as being too difficult, for fear I would boot her out of the car on the way home (it happens all the time. Especially to people in walkers, my favorite target.) So what can I say about the quail dish, Glenda might have liked it. Or she might not have liked it. A mystery is afoot!

“Semolina Gnocchi with Cardoons and Squash” – Michael and I both finished our savory dining with this, a somewhat light but flavorful combination of carbs and vegetables. Interestingly, this Gnocchi was small little pasta like objects, opposed to the typically larger potato pillows you usually get when you order gnocchi.

IMG_3311“Pudin De Pan with Quince & Chestnut” – David, as I’ve mentioned a million times, is not exactly a proponent of ordering dessert, but these days, he seems a bit more flexible and occasionally orders a dessert that he and Shuhong can share, that way she has an end of meal treat but he doesn’t have to gobble an entire dessert on his own (he’s always been willing to help us gobble ours, I’ve noticed.) As they were sharing several small plates, none of them overly heavy (oysters, raw meat shavings, three chicken wings and mousse) they selected a relatively hearty dessert, the waiter said quite similar to bread pudding. This layered combination was lovely, creamy, fruity, and rich, and Shuhong was very insistent I had to try it. It was delicious, and she and David were quite happy with their selection.

Also happy (hooray!) was Glenda with her dessert selection, the same one I had, “Chocolate Torte with Huckleberry Ice Cream.” As I’ve said ad nauseum (yes, I know many things I write fall into that category) I’m not a gigantic, intense chocolate fan, and flourless chocolate cakes don’t often thrill me. IMG_3314That being said, these two chocolate brownie objects were quite good, the right combination of denseness, moistness, and chocolate consistency. I forgot after I ordered it that the ice cream was supposed to be huckleberry, and when I tasted it, I can’t say it belted out “HUCKLEBERRY!”, but it was nice and creamy, and made a good counterpoint to the torte. Glenda, a chocolate fanatic, loved it. If only her evening could have consisted of wine and dessert, she would have been such a happy camper. Hmm, there’s an interesting thing to imagine, Glenda out camping. Seems unlikely. That being said, towards the end of this dinner she was telling us that in her Catholic youth, she had made the famous pilgrimage walk down the Pyrenees, through Spain, and to Santiago d’ Compostela. I drove that route a few years ago (hey, not everyone has the time for a leisurely walk!) and saw all the pilgrims with their walking sticks along the way, but somehow I don’t remember any of them having fancy hair like Glenda.

I would like to go back to Sauvage, have some smoked chicken wings, maybe more chicken liver mousse, try some other items, have a nice glass of wine.IMG_3300 It seems like a very earnest sort of establishment, a place of thoughtful food and well selected wine, and it’s nice to have a French inspired restaurant without too much fussiness and formality, and with some reasonable prices to boot for quality cooking. So far they appear lightly patronized, but I’ve noticed their name pop up a few times recently, so hopefully the word will get around and more wine lovers and people in search of a good, simple meal will check them out. They might have more luck if they keep the outside of their door unlocked, climbing through the window each time is just too avant garde.