Down With the Industrial Revolution!

A few months after it opened, around three years ago, I took a group of diners to Ned Ludd. I was infamously late to that dinner, as I kept driving down MLK, back and forth, without spotting the building (it didn’t look like I had planned.) This time I knew right where to find Ned Ludd, and felt a little better when two other people this evening had difficulty spotting the restaurant  (it sits back behind a little courtyard, and the signage is very low key.)

IMG_3380Because I dribbled on plenty about the Ned Ludd concept a few years ago, I’m going to attempt to keep this brief. As many people know, Ned Ludd was the figurehead for a British labor movement long ago that protested the Industrial Revolution by breaking their machinery. They understood that machines were taking human positions, creating less work and fewer jobs, much like the Computer Revolution is screwing many of us over now (hey, I’m in printing, we’re really screwed. What we need is a modern Luddite Movement!) Anyway, those folks believed in a more back to basics ethos, which is the entire concept behind Ned Ludd, cook everything on one old fashioned, tried and true piece of equipment, in their case a wood burning oven.

In the beginning, Ned Ludd was three guys in the kitchen, but a couple of them left to open venues like Grain and Gristle, so Ned Ludd carried on in the vision of Jason French. IMG_3381In the early days, Ned Ludd was a good restaurant playing out an interesting concept, but now it is an excellent restaurant listed on many people’s list of top 10 dining destinations in Portland last year. Either Jason French turned out to be the absolute wiz-master with the wood burning oven, or perhaps just having one person’s focus at the helm put it over the top into must try eateries. (By the way, I know many people connected to the food industry hate this term eatery, that’s why I continue to use it.)

After much bemoaning about my attendance levels at the dinners this year, I did fill the eight places I reserved this time out, welcoming my original member, Michael (two dinners in a row!) Glenda, David and Shuhong, Sam, Cora, and Cora’s old friend Wydra (who owns a bar in St. Johns, which I would like to promote, but I forgot the name. Just look around Lombard and Portsmouth.)

This time, instead of arriving about 45 minutes after everyone else, I was the third to arrive, Ms. Goldwater in tow.IMG_3386 I mention this, that I was third to arrive, to explain the fact that looking at our bill it appears we consumed lots of alcoholic beverages this evening, but as the first two people to get there, Wydra and Michael, were already boozing it up by the time i got there, I missed much of what people were drinking this gathering. I do know that Cora had a vodka and tonic, Glenda and David both started off with Scotch (David whipping out his flask of Drambuie) I think Wydra had some bourbon, and Michael ????, maybe beer. I also saw wine. I had one of Ned Ludd’s specialty cocktails, the Troublesome Triscuit – Ransom Old Tom Gin, Krogstad Aquavit, lemon. Originally I was a bit apprehensive, as I have some Krogstad Aquavit at home that I once mixed with lemon for a specialty cocktail I read about, and it was awful!  This was actually very good though, much like a fine lemon drop, so I had no issues getting it down into my gullet..

The decor at Ned Ludd hasn’t changed too much (or at all) since our last visit, sort of charming shack in the woods, with much of the woods inside (fuel for the oven.) Funky lighting, knickknacks, trashed out wood ceiling, big burning oven.IMG_3370 Someone mentioned to me that they liked the food at Ned Ludd, but thought they smelled like a big smoked pork chop after they left the restaurant. I’ve been to Ned Ludd three times now and never really noticed this phenomenon, although it’s certainly an issue at OX right down the street. Martin Luther King JR. Blvd., Avenue of the fine wood burning restaurants! OX is beef central though, and at Ned Ludd you rarely seen beef items on the menu. I guess it’s much easier to do a good job cooking beef on a wood fired grill than in a wood burning oven, unless you want your beef stewed. Rather, Ned Ludd is a temple of seafood.

Here’s things that we et ….

Pickle plate – Pickled items!

IMG_3374Charcuterie board, accompaniments – Glenda ordered this for the table, I guess because she was happy to be rejoining our group after her ordeal, happy to be in her own home, and happy to be walking unassisted once again. Whatever her reason, we appreciated it, since the collection of meat products was delicious, and the lightly crispy edged pumpernickel bread had a wonderful texture. A couple of people thought the prosciutto was a tad salty, but everyone thought the rillettes and pates exceptionally delicious.

Arugula, red & chiogga beets, Belper Knolle – A nice hearty salad featuring garlic infused cheese rolled in black pepper.

Cured Steelhead, fennel salsa verge, rye crumbs – Although extremely mild tasting, this was really good, the rye crumbs providing an interesting crunch with each bite

Cabbage, shaved apples, cider reduction, horseradish cream – David seemed a bit disappointed, since when he saw horseradish he thought the dressing might have a kick. Alas, no sinus bursting zing, but he still thought it was a decent salad.

IMG_3379Lacinato kale, garlic, lemon, almonds, boquerones, parsley, pecorino – I think 2013 is Boquerones Year in Portland, I’m seeing them everywhere, especially in salads. These mild tasting anchovies seem to surprise everyone, as they are neither overly fishy nor salty. This was a beautiful, big salad, and Cora appeared quite pleased with her selection.

Warm marinated left coast olives – The name says it all

IMG_3389Charred brussels sprouts, lemon. chili, olive oil – Sylvie, who didn’t come to this dinner, told me that someone needed to order these, as they were the best things here (and she said she doesn’t even really like brussels sprouts.) Glenda requested that the vegetables under her meat be replaced with these, and the restaurant complied, and she was pleased with them. Cora and Wydra decided to split one of the regular $9 orders, and they were unhappy to find many of their’s charred beyond recognition (the autopsy said brussels sprouts, or at least the bill did.) They picked through them, and found some good ones amongst the vegetable carnage, but asked for a refund, and Ned Ludd complied.

Spiced flatbread, good olive oil, Oregon sea salt – Yes, here we go again, paying for bread. At least this time we knew it would cost us. We had three orders of this nice salty, pillowy bread, and while it wasn’t the cheapest ever, it was good.

IMG_3388Pork and porcini ragu, soft polenta, pickled shrimp – David was my only returning member from my first Ned Ludd dinner, and he told me he and Shuhong would come, but he wasn’t that excited about it. The menu was a lot different than the winter menu on the internet, where I saw a couple of things he might like, but luckily this was on the current menu. David thought the entire collection of flavors was great, and enjoyed all the food he had at Ned Ludd this evening, proof that they have in fact improved.

A whole roasted trout, charred leeks, carrot, & fennel salad – Sam has always been one of our major trout orderers, but she was a bit disappointed because she originally thought the fish a bit bland.IMG_3382 Once everything on her plate got mixed up together, she gave the trout a better review. Her only complaint was that she had to leave much of her “salad” uneaten, as it appeared NL was having some sort of temperature control issue this evening, because like the brussels sprouts, many of Sam’s leeks and such were too charred to be able to chew. Cora tasted this dish, and gave it kudos (okay, not the burnt up part.)

Seared Sturgeon, roasted chicories, citrus, green olives – Wydra, Michael, and I all had this, moist and delicious, the olives and citrus providing an interesting counterpoint to rich white fish.

IMG_3387Petrale sole, mussel cream, spinach, tarragon – When Ned Ludd said mussel cream they weren’t kidding, there were almost as many mussels as sole. Both Cora and Shuhong enjoyed the combination.

Pastured lamb, roots, apples, chilies, kale pesto – beautifully cooked, rosy colored lamb in a lovely sauce

Red wine stewed Winter fruits in pastry, sour cream sauce – This looked pretty, but this was another case of an item that could have stood a bit less time in the wood burning oven. Chewy!

IMG_3397Brioche bread pudding, apple butter, granola – I wasn’t sure about this, as apple butter and granola sounded a bit off putting, as this wasn’t breakfast, but this was really tasty, with the wonderfully eggy brioche.

Everyone agreed that except for a couple of semi-incenerated items, the food at Ned Ludd was really good.IMG_3366 Maybe because they were cooking for eight of us, and the rest of the people in the restaurant as well, they had a few too many irons in the fire at the same time, and were losing track of some. Except for the cremated brussels sprouts, we really didn’t hold it against them. The food here is great, the atmosphere is fun, and the service is fine. We visit so many new fangled food places, but Ned Ludd proves the old ways can be best.

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