Bar makes noble nosh
- Christina Melander
- Portland Tribune - Features
Kitchen offerings add a draw to new and popular wine spot
Rapturous diners always are curious to learn where the chefs and cooks they admire go out to eat, hopeful that in-the-know professionals will divulge some secret haunts. Open since June, the Southeast wine bar Noble Rot may not be much of a secret, but stop by late at night and you're almost guaranteed to find a swarm of after-shift cooks reviving themselves at the bar.
It serves food after other restaurants have gone to bed.
It serves really, really good food, great wine and a few choice beers.
It feels as comfortable as your own kitchen but is livelier and better looking.
Naturally, these factors draw all kinds, not just food-industry folk, and in the course of a few months Noble Rot has become an undisputed hot spot.
Smashing the '80s stereotype of a cheesy wine bar teeming with posturing social climbers and pretentious wine stewards, Noble Rot would be attractive to those who don't know their semillon from their syrah Ñ and don't care to. Though a wine bar by definition (no liquor is served), Noble Rot approximates what Brits call a local, a neighborhood bar where you'll be met by a sympathetic ear and a glass of something to untangle your nerves.
That's not to de-emphasize the wine program here, which is considered and thoughtfully constructed. The list consists of wines by the glass Ñ from $4 house pours to reserve rioja that can run $25 a glass Ñ and affordable, ever-changing flights that invite wine lovers to learn a little by sampling the same wine by different producers. The familiar and hard-to-find bottles (from Alsace to Argentina) that line Noble Rot's sienna walls are priced at retail and can be consumed on premises for a $7 corkage fee.
Those acquainted with Noble Rot's genesis would expect nothing less than a cache of beautiful, well-priced wines. When Kimberly Bernosky closed her beloved Beaumont Wines last year, she partnered with pal Courtney Storrs and hatched the plan for a new kind of wine bar.
What you might not expect at a joint so dedicated to the vine is high-caliber food. As the plans for Noble Rot started to gel, Courtney's husband Leather Storrs, a Culinary Institute of America graduate who did a stint at Bijou Cafe and has lent a hand as a guest chef around town, signed on to handle the food end at Noble. (Leather Storrs also is a former contributor to the Tribune's dining pages.)
The food is a dream. Each dish is small and cleanly presented, the flavors focused. A meal made of little plates may be the optimal way to eat; no one dish is overwhelming, and all are given equal attention. A handful of house-marinated olives or roasted marcona almonds can be had for $2 to immediately stay hunger before moving on to more substantial single servings.
Smoked trout is flanked by brilliant heirloom beets and fennel, the plate so pretty it looks like dessert. The Noble Salad is a classic: butter lettuce, red onion and sunflower seeds with blue cheese dressing that is mercifully subtle and silken instead of chunky. Ground lamb and eggplant cannelloni may prompt you to beg for the recipe. Macaroni and cheese is thick with cream and boasts a toasted crumble crust that lends a nice contrasting texture. This actually is one dish so rich it could be called overwhelming; stick to the half order.
Make sure that one of the little plates you order is dessert. Like other menu offerings, dessert is determined by what's good and in season, though a very vanillin crme bržlŽe and sophisticated brownie sundae are constants. If you're in luck, a fruit sweet also will be in the offing; recent hits include a peach upside-down cake and rustic nectarine-blueberry tart.
The warm weather perhaps is somewhat responsible for Noble Rot's instant success, allowing the convivial mood in the bar to spill out the open garage door to the inviting sidewalk tables. But it undoubtedly will continue to provide delicious shelter once the rain drives Portlanders to cozy indoor nooks.