Sunday, August 10, 2008

Casual Subversion

First off, you walk in through the kitchen, like you know your host so well you come in through the back door rather than coming up the front steps and ringing the bell. Dinner sits bubbling away on the stove, bread is being sliced on the counter and an open bottle of wine is waiting to be poured.

But walk past the peninsula and parted red-checked curtains at DOC on NE Alberta and suddenly you're in a sophisticated dining room with subdued lighting, black glass chandeliers and a scattering of cloth-covered tables. It all suggests a bourgeois bohemian sensibility, and reminds me of someone's rich parents' condo in the Pearl.

The menu backs up this impression with a Northwest-meets-Italy selection of seven courses from pane through dolci (bread through dessert) and includes an appetizer, pasta, meat or fish, vegetable and cheese course as well. It has an impressive wine list, with the odd caveat that the first three bottles of red, white or sparkling wines that are opened become the night's by-the-glass selections. (I guess you go early or hope that your food selections go with those choices.)

The night I was there was another of those media-only freebie dinners to introduce the place to local food writers, so pretty much everything was spot-on except for the vegetable course that featured tough, stringy artichoke hearts and not-ripe-enough cherry tomatoes. The clear stand-out was the "secondi" of albacore, peaches, padron and lardo, with the strips of cured pork fat melting over the top of the succulent pink slightly-smoky tuna. (This will be going on the menu of my last meal should I be in the situation to choose one.)

The other standout was the antipasta, essentially a salad of beef braised with bing cherries, purslane (which most people pull out of their gardens thinking it's a weed, which if it's in the wrong place it is) and torpedo onions, a type of Italian red onion.

With pricing in the moderate-to-expensive range, it would be a nice place for sharing a a couple of courses with a glass of wine each, but I can't resist noting that it would be truly worth seeking out if the kitchen pushed to make the subversive layout match the food. While DOC's food is well-executed, it's not particularly unique for Portland, and I'd love to find a place that surprises diners with superb quality and simple executions of basic dishes. Like being invited to friends' homes who are superb cooks, that would be a kitchen I'd love to go to any time.

Details: DOC, 5519 NE 30th Ave. 503-946-8592.


Anonymous said...

Gosh, someone has to do it....protecting us mere mortals from the possibility of eating bad food. Thank you so much for the service you provide.

Glassylady in Cowtown.

Kathleen Bauer said...

If it's fated that I'm the one who has to fall on my sword to protect you, fair lady, then so be it! (But really, I gotta say those bad moments are fortunately extremely few and far between.)