I have been loving the idea of Chris Angelus’ Portland Food Adventures for some time. The idea is that a group of food adventurers meet to enjoy a multicourse dinner including beverage pairings and tip for a set price. And so you arrive and find yourself sitting with all these other lovers of food about to embark on a menu that has been entrusted to the chef and his staff with freedom to take you on this journey. There was no one else with us – our private party had the restaurant all to ourselves. At the end of the dining experience, the chef has recommended some of his favorite restaurants, and you are presented with gift certificates as an incentive and introduction. And no chef is going to send you to a merely mediocre restaurant.
The event overall reminds me of attending a wedding but the occasion is to celebrate the union of food and deliciousness. It doesn’t matter who you are seated with as you mill around the tables during the cocktail portion, looking for your name on the top of a printed menu that designates your seat at a shared table. Everyone here is a fan of food, as if you are all alumni of the same alma mater and you will probably spend the evening talking about the food you are current eating, food you have eaten in the past (sometimes comparing tales at the same establishment as if we all took that same required class), and planning more food you want to in the future eat based on swapping recommendations.
There may be a time where the chefs mingles with all the guests, and there is definitely a time where the stories and ideas behind the courses are shared, as if they are one of the department heads of this University of Tastyness- of which John Gorham certainly is qualified for tenure. This food adventure at Tasty n Alder was marking the opening for dinner of this West Side restaurant- he is also the mastermind behind Tasty n Sons and Toro Bravo on the East Side.
In this case, he explained how he hoped Tasty n Alder would be a new kind of steakhouse that let diners compare the meat sourced from multiple locations locally and worldwide, and would include cuts that are more unusual and under-appreciated. The menu would vary often based on what was available from his providers, noting another difference from a traditional steakhouse where some classic steak selections would be expected to always make an appearance day after day. Shortly after, dinner head chef Morgan Brownlow explained each of the dishes we would be enjoying.
John and his staff continue to collaborate to fuse their various experiences and ideas to re-imagine dishes to a new level. For instance, while Tasty n Alder is alternative steakhouse by night, by day they offer a brunch that incorporates influences from the rest of the world, including chocolate potato doughnuts, potatoes bravas, glazed yams with cumin maple, baked egg bread puddings, pork schnitzel, korean fried chicken and bim bop with bacon and eggs- certainly not your typical breakfast fare. I love the Toro Burger and the Tasty Bloody Mary- there are new takes of these available here that I must try. Must. Seriously, I’m thinking about whether I can stop by after posting this and before getting on the Bolt bus to Seattle today.
Unlike his two other locations, Tasty n Alder is surrounded on two sides with large windows that are left unadorned, just frames to the boutiques and church on Alder. He is in good company here: just across 12th street is Gruner and another half block down is Lardo and Blue Star Doughnuts. Inside the look is simple woods just like at Tasty n Sons, with white bucket seats. A small bar area doesn’t offer the large communal table of Tasty n Sons, but has an impressive wall of liquors, and there is a small counter with seats by the open kitchen offering a chance to dine while observing the inner workings of the restaurant.
After walking around the block twice so I wasn’t too eager, I entered Tasty n Sons right at 6:30pm, where only a few people of the 45 total of adventurers had arrived. I was immediately provided a lovely Brandy Fizz cocktail of applejack, pampelmousse, lemon, and topped with sparkling wine bubbles and encouraged to snack away, and had my choice of any of the seats at the bar, though the standing portion of the bar with a ledge to hold your glasses and appetizer plates also has convenient hooks underneath. I relaxed at the bar and admired as Mindy, beverages goddess, shaking up a storm, keeping up as everyone began to arrive.
Already on the bar were cheese boards re-purposed for serving of “Chips n Dip”, made in house and better than what you could ever hope for at any Superbowl party. These chips were light and non-greasy, and you could easily be lulled to eating that whole plateful just by yourself if you aren’t paying attention. The sour cream and chives and cracked pepper dip was a cool refresh after the kickass Blaze’s Smoked Wings. As soon as those emerged from the kitchen, the wondrous aroma of those wings was arousing everyone even before we had seen them.
Later, John Gorham would tell us the story of how he met Blaze, who was a friend of someone he knew. It was a dark day because of some personal circumstances, but he went to a planned gathering anyway, as he knows food can be comfort. As soon as he took one bite from a tray of chicken wings that someone had brought, his spirits were immediately lifted as he aggressively started to seek out who brought those wings. When he discovered Blaze was just making these at home as a casual home cook, Blaze was hired on the spot.
Seriously, these are at least “2 napkins” wings, but I also admit I licked my fingers (while making a mental note not to shake anyone’s hand as everyone was mingling and introducing each other). If I had any bread I would have wiped up the plate with it, or mixed it with rice and eaten it just like that as a dish on its own.
Then we were encouraged to find our seats, and after a few minutes of introductions and having just enough time to read the menu and get excited, the family style dinner began with a Radicchio salad. Just like at Tasty n Sons, it is served in a large clear bowl to mix and serve yourself, and this version came topped with plenty of lardons and chunks of boiled egg.
Shortly after was a mix it yourself steak tartare, as well as clams casino, a broiled clam with breadcrumbs and bacon served on rock salt. As you can see, I loved the steak tartare and could also just eat that whole plate by myself. These three items were paired with the citrus balanced flavors of a 2011 Mahonia Vineyards Chardonnay that had enough roundness to compliment the dishes but a finish of minerality to balance the richness.
Next was the ingenious pairing of the Sexy Filipino Fish Stew (also courtesy of Blaze) along with Hofbrau Hefeweizen whose hints of clove (thankfully no banana) and carbonated effervescence did compliment the depth of complex savory and sour and salty notes in the stew. I think everyone wanted more of that stew, especially given the size and depth of the bowl it was served in that had us breaching etiquette by not remembering to tilt the bowl away from us in trying to get every last drop. Maybe I should always make sure to have bread on hand here so I can be sure to always be ready to sop up every last bit of liquid from all these plates.
The steaks and side came as they were ready from the kitchen: a Pork Skirt from Iberico, Spain that was served simply with a sprinkle of salt to really taste the meat; a flat iron Washimi Wagyu allowed to just cook in its own fat and juices and didn’t really need that touch of romesco it was served with as it was already so juicy and flavor; and Teres Major from St Helen’s OR, a shoulder cut that was topped with chimichurri. Of the three, I would have to say the flat iron was my favorite.
Everyone was in love with the skillet cornbread whose moistness and little touch of melted butter on top was more reminiscent of spoon bread than cornbread. The other sides included a baked spinach offering an attempt at pretending to be healthy because see we had vegetables! and pato potatoes prepared in foie butter. All of these were paired with a 2009 Aia Vecchia, Lagone, Toscano Cabernet Blend and also a NV Valdespino Palo Cortado Viejo whose sherry profile worked well to enhance caramelized sweetness.
For dessert, the table shared small tastes of Grown Ass Milkshakes in the flavor varieties of Grasshopper, Brandy Alexander, and Creamsicle. Our gift certificates to Raven and Rose, Mirakutei, and a pizza at Lovely Fifty Fifty were promises of more tastyness to come in the future.
It was a great experience, although apparently after having the Toscano Cabernet Blend “topped off” and having second helpings of extra servings of the Brandy Alexander and Grasshopper desserts, my camera hand was not as steady as I hoped. I would love to take my brother and his great photography skills and equal love for food here, and I’m sure the blog entry covering this event at Portland Food Adventures’ site will make me yearn for graduating from my point and shoot camera and learning some food porn taking skills. Sorry about that. Well, partially sorry. Thank you to my tablemates for their patience as I tried to quickly snap a few shots each time we were served.
Portland Food Adventures are scheduled for Tuesdays, Thursdays. or Sundays, generally one adventure planned each month. It is totally worth planning to start a long weekend earlier/extending it later or planning your vacation time just to be able to be a part of this. How else will you ever get to try so much food at this level of restaurant in one sitting while meeting equally like-minded new people? For me, in purchasing my ticket to this event, I had been torn and thinking about it for days because of a lot of unanticipated January expenses and couldn’t seem to find any other interested friends, but obviously in the end I decided to go ahead and blow my dining out budget for the month and go alone- and I scored the last ticket!
Next time, I definitely won’t be as hesitant.