THE DINING REPORT- BLOCK + TACKLE

Not A Fumble In Sight

IMG_3678Okay, if anyone still reads this thing, they may be thinking, hey, how come I didn’t get my reservation to this dinner? It’s true, you were not invited to the Block + Tackle dinner. There were no RSVPs. We had our dinner at Bistro Marquee the week that Block + Tackle opened. I mentioned at BM that I had already made the reservation for the next dinner, B + T. At that time enough people (basically everyone from that dinner) told me they wanted to be included in the B + T dinner, so i had no spaces left. Well, that was easy. Exclusionary, but easy.

Anyway, sorry to the rest of you, especially you seafood lovers, but Block + Tackle is not the world biggest place, so 10 places pretty much monopolized the establishment. IMG_3673Also, it’s already crowded, so I felt lucky to get any seats. As it happens, originally the reservation was for the over 80 time of 5:45, as that was all Open Table would allow. As fate would have it, however, Melissa Halle is in like Flynn with the GM or someone at B + T, so she was able to switch the reservation to our more usual 6:30 PM. (It’s true that this time also seems early to some folks, especially those from places like Spain, but after a three hour dinner, this still allows my members time left in their evening go out and party down! And/or put on their jammies and go to sleep).

Portland is fortunate these days to have many chefs who have attained national status, and others who are less talked about, but still acknowledged to be at the top of their game and putting out amazing food. Into this last category no one is more noteworthy than Trent Pierce, whose small and short lived eatery, Fin, produced amazing seafood dishes from opening until it abruptly closed just a few months later, largely due to building ownership mismanagement. IMG_3680Much of the Portland food world was distraught over the loss of Fin, and couldn’t wait for Mr. Piece to get another place going, hopefully one where he had more control over his own fate. Eventually came Wafu, Pierce’s take on Japanese noodle joints, one of the earliest additions to the soon to be exploding Division St. restaurant row. Wafu gained a loyal following immediately, but it was clear Trent Pierce’s heart belongs only to seafood, as he soon opened a tiny, elite, reservation only seafood den in the back of Wafu called Roe. At Roe you pay your tariff and enjoy a very drawn out, but exquisite, meal of freshly architecturalized seafood plates. The reviews have been glowing since inception.

As popular as it was, a few month ago the decision was made to close Wafu and convert the space into a new, informal seafood destination, the eventual moniker becoming Block + Tackle (which, as Julian pointed out, could also be a football restaurant). IMG_3657With Wafu’s popularity, this must have been a hard decision for Trent Pierce, but clearly this guy loves seafood above all else. I  was excited about the opening of Block + Tackle, mainly because there really iare no such thing in Portland as informal, high quality seafood restaurants. There are some higher end places, Riffle NW, Ringside Fish House, and Southpark, then there are some lower end, informal places (Skippers, Red Lobster) but really not alot bridging the gap. I really don’t know how many times I have heard people comment “why can’t we have decent seafood here, we’re within 100 miles of an ocean?” ( Hey, and within 100 miles of a mountain, but when’s the last time you tucked into a meal of bear, mountain goat or puma I ask? Of course, if he could serve them, Kingdom of Roosevelt would have those on the menu, as well as his other scary bites). Also, how could it not be an interesting establishment, Portland’s highest end seafood chef doing caesar salads, fish sandwiches, and fish and chips, all on the Block + Tackle menu.

I don’t know what the decor was like at Wafu, as I’m not much of a stringy noodle gal, but Block + Tackle definitely has a casual ocean theme going.IMG_3682 The space is long and narrow, so we were seated on stools running down the center of the dining room (Urg, stools are not good for girls with accessories to plunk down!). The lighting was relatively darkish (or course i forgot my glasses, and could not see anything) and you had your basic collection of nautically themed items, photos, floats, portholes, and a really large, attractively drawn blackboard of specials and cool illustrations, like a big, pink Narwhal (at least I hope that was a Narwhal. Either that, or this is a secret porno palace). The service at Block + Tackle was an incredible contrast to what we saw at Bistro Marquee, here everyone was running at you from multiple directions to service your every need, and the very petite waitress was excellent, competent, informal, and friendly. As our old friend Marnie would say, 10 thumbs up!

This particular dinner, Glenda and I were still on time for the reservation, if not a couple of minutes early, but we were still the last to arrive, as I had been in a giant jam-up on the freeway (to quote Mrs. Goldwater, that’s what I get for driving). IMG_3660Anyway, as we were the last to get there, I don’t know what others were drinking, except for perhaps Julian, who I sat next to (he had a Belgian Ale – Duvall – how evil of him). I had a cocktail called a Rum Siren, which was very cute with its little umbrella (I haven’t gotten an umbrella drink in ages!) and quite intriguing looking, as Melissa came across the room asking for a slurp. It was a decent drink for sure, but a bit heavy on ice and light on product. A good rum drink should make your head at least a little wonky.

This was another of those dinners when people are almost grief stricken over what to order, so many things sound tasty and are out of the ordinary for Portland (even after I saw them eaten, I still don’t know what a Sand Dab is). This is Trent Pierce’s mission, as I understand it, to bring Portland the largest variety of fresh, locally sourced, deliciously prepared seafood he can. The really unusual thing, at least as far as seafood joints in this town go, is that almost all of the menu is small plate sized. Only a couple of things could be considered main course size. IMG_3664Otherwise, you just select a bit of this and that (almost entirely seafood) so you don’t necessarily have a standard meal at Block + Tackle. I admit, I found this a bit daunting, as I didn’t know which item to start with, and which to have as my primary course, as most things on the menu I would generally have as a starter. The place is a piscetarian’s paradise (fish eating vegetarian). I finally had to ask the waitress what she would end and begin with. Also, there are no real side dishes (except for a special vegetable preparation or two) so you have seafood with seafood.

Here’s the rundown of what our table had, with the comments I heard. Many of the items like the seafood cocktail and Caesar salad were ordered by multiple people.

Oysters on the half shell. (daily selection)

Seafood cocktail, bay shrimp & scallop, crab, squid – There were several of these selected, full of lovely fresh seafood and delicious sauce. Really good.

IMG_3670Chilled poached peel and eat prawns with toasted ginger and cardamom aioli – This would be about the last thing in the world I would expect Glenda to order, especially as you had to peel them yourself (sticky and fishy, she could have used a finger bowl upon completion) the whole thing seemed so proletariat, and I’ve never known Glenda to have any interest in shrimp of any kind. Perhaps she was intrigued by the toasted ginger and cardamom? Whatever the case, while she said they were a real pain to peel, they were wonderful.

Marlin rillettes, whipped smoked fatty marlin, lobster oil – I think the Halle’s ordered this, but I did not hear the verdict. I know they loved Block + Tackle though, so it was probably good. After all, lobster oil.

Dirty Corn – This was a special from the chalkboard. I laughed when I saw that Heidi had ordered this, because it sounded so hard to eat. IMG_3672It appeared to be modeled on the “put your life in danger” corn on the cob you get all over the place in Mexico, charred and dripping with butter, mayonnaise, and other naughtiness. Here, I would assume, the mayonnaise does not sit out on a hot street corner (or on a hot beach) for multiple hours at a time.. It arrived, and it was gloppy, and Heidi decided to de-corn her cob and eat it in a more dainty fashion. She said it was tasty, but perhaps a little over-glopped.

Caesar, baby romaine, smoked egg dressing, trout roe, pecorino, brioche croutons, fried anchovies – Didn’t hear, but people eating it appeared happy. If you look at the ingredients, you get a good idea of how Trent Pierce’s mind works. Take something commonplace, then do everything you can to make it interesting (and more seafood oriented).

Fried cauliflower, pecorino, fennel, cured black olives, lemon, currant, chili – Speaking of interesting, who thinks of adding currants, olives, fennel and chili to cauliflower? Heidi and Julian were both over the moon about this, so unusual and complex, they insisted all those willing to, had to try it. They both loved all their food, but said this was the best thing they had.

Salt & pepper calamari, leek, fresno chili, sweet chili sauce – Although it sounds relatively 90ish, calamari is still delicious when prepared well, and Salt and Pepper Squid has been a famous mainstay for years at a restaurant called Thien Hong on Sandy Blvd.IMG_3674 I haven’t had their version for at least five years, but I knew that if anyone could revisit this dish and make it even better, it was Trent Pierce. This was a big hearty plate of squid, and because of careful preparation, most likely the most tender squid I have ever had. The leek provided a bed of greenery, which ended up soaking up the very spicy sauce. This was a lot of calamari to eat, so I ended up letting Shuhong finish it off for me. When I mentioned how spicy the sauce was, she said “yes, even for me!” Now that’s spicy, as her tongue is asbestos!

Crab dip & cracker bread – I don’t know what the heck Cora was doing, whether she just ordered too many things and couldn’t get around to this until the end, or whether she wanted this for dessert, but that’s when it arrived, when all the main courses were eaten and dessert was on its way.IMG_3681 I don’t know about you, but I just don’t find hot crab dip a refreshing end to my meal (but to be honest, I’m not too keen on heated crab). Whatever, Cora kindly passed it around the table, but didn’t have tons of people clamoring for it at the end of the meal, since everyone was stuffed to their gills (get it, to their gills? Fish humor). Heidi had a bit though, and agreed with Cora that it would be better with bread than the crackers that came with it, so Cora requested bread, and B + T obliged. Everyone (but maybe me, hot crab issue again) who tried it liked it though, so I’m sure it was well executed, if not particularly timely.

Pan roasted sand dab with smoked jalapeno & clam sauce – Barbara had this. It least now I know what the bones look like.

IMG_3675Seafood sausage, orrechiette, hot & sweet peppers, basil, mascarpone – I think David and Shuhong ended up with too much food, especially the heavier items. Although I’ve been seeing it quite often these days, the idea of seafood sausage tends to make me blanch. I tried some of this pasta though, and the entire combination was quite good, and the sausage was not weird at all. Also, a very hearty portion.

IMG_3679Halibut fish & chips – Okay, someone had to have this, just because it was there. One of the few, standard main course items on the B + T menu. Not exactly what David and Shuhong needed after seafood cocktail, caesar salad, and seafood pasta, since it was huge. They did find it really good though, what they could eat. Sadly, it’s hard to think of anything that overnights worse than fried, breaded seafood.

IMG_3656Fish sandwich, crispy cod, toasted English muffin, coleslaw, deli mustard, B & T tartar sauce and frites – Heidi and Julian also had eyes are bigger than their stomach syndrome, and both tucked into a giant (thick) fish sandwich when they were already moderately full. Julian in particular found this a gut buster, as he had stopped for a snack at McDs not too many hours before the dinner. They liked them though, despite the fact that their appetites were floundering (hey, I got a million of em!)

IMG_3677Nicoise Salad, seared albacore, smoked salmon, argula, green beans, new potatoes, olive vinagrette – this was what the waitress suggested that I have for my main course, as she said she loved it. It was a beautiful salad, with a big hunk of seared tuna on top and lots of slivers of smoked salmon throughout. Although a salad as a main course doesn’t necessarily fill me up, this would be a definite exception to that rule.

Since all the pricing was inexpensive or moderate, people tended to over order, expecting small portions. IMG_3683All the portions were more than adequate, however, so almost everyone was stuffed at the end. Glenda had a modest collection of items, the prawns and the Nicoise salad, so she decided she could manage the Chocolate Torte with caramel and hazelnuts. Wow, this looked really tasty, like a big hunk of fudge and nuts, and I could tell that Glenda liked it when she got up to visit the restroom and instructed me to not let anyone mess with it, as she was taking half of it home (it would have been okay for the waitress to touch it for the boxing procedure, I suppose).

Butterscotch Pudding with Sea Salt – this was a special from the blackboard, and only $5. IMG_3685Although I cook with kosher salt quite often, I am not one of those people who has jumped on the salty everything bandwagon and screamed “take me anywhere”, especially when it comes to dessert. Many people at our table saw it listed up there and were oohing and ahhing over the potential deliciousness, but most of our party was too stuffed to order any. I personally tend to not get as overstuffed from seafood as I do with meatier items though, and I could tell that if I wanted to get rid of some pudding, I would have potential samplers around the table. Also, the waitress brought a load of clean, shiny spoons (decent silverware, by the way). Anyway, the pudding was completely delicious, sweet but not jarringly so, rich but not artificial, with the sea salt adding both a taste and textural counterpoint. I almost wish I would have ordered one plate of seafood (rather than three) and perhaps five orders of pudding, but perhaps that might have been a tad gluttonous (but only a tad). I did show self-restraint, however, by only eating about 50% of my pudding, then passing it around the table for all to enjoy (and it was). Tasty, indeed!

Except for having to balance on a stool while throwing my possessions on the floor, I can really think of nothing negative to say about Block + Tackle.IMG_3659 Finally someone else is taking a page from the John Gorham playbook (Toro Bravo and the two Tasty’s) a large variety of ample food at modest prices, all creatively prepared. At the dinner before this John Halle was waxing quixotic about the excellent dinner he and Barbara had had in the back room here, at Roe, several months earlier. He described the quality and the preparations as transcendant, saying it was an amazing meal. Of course, at these prices, with more rapid preparation necessary, the food at Block + Tackle does not ascend to transcendent heights. It’s pretty awesomely decent though, great variety, and interestingly prepared. I’m anxious for another dinner at Block + Tackle soon. Maybe I can manage to get an RSVP out this time, before all the places are gone. Don’t count on it though.

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