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Junes menu survives the buzz

Bread and Brew
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT, Innovative cocktails like the Wild at Heart are a major draw at June, a new restaurant on East Burnside.

We started our meal at June with cocktails, and they were fantastic. We finished with a dessert that was truly outstanding. The rest of the dinner was good, too, and yet it was not quite all that I had hoped it would be.

Unrealistic expectations can ruin a good thing, but I think it's fair to expect a lot from June. Since it opened in this August it's created quite a buzz, in part because it's run by a supergroup of Portland food professionals. The chef is Greg Perrault, who made a splash at the Italian spot D.O.C. He's joined by sous chef Daniel Mondok, of the refined and top-rated Sel Gris, which burned down. The head bartender is Kelley Swenson, who is famous for his work at Ten 01.

At June, Swenson remains in top form. His cocktail menu's clever names are backed up with creative mixing that doesn't descend into kookiness. A drink called What's in Columbo's Pockets combines Calvados, Armagnac and Dubonnet. It sounds like the result of a kid pilfering his parents' liquor cabinet, but it's a sophisticated drink, fruity, spicy and autumnal, garnished with apple slices. The Cryptic Memo is a bracing aperitif made of rye whiskey, Campari and Ramazzotti Amaro, with an enjoyably bitter quality reminiscent of the days when a cocktail was called a tonic or a pick-me-up.

Matching the menu

The rest of the drink menu is equally intriguing, with unusual types of vodka, several eaux de vie, and a densely packed European wine list.

The wines match up with a menu that is seasonal and local, first and foremost, but with France hovering in the background. There's lots of cream and preparations like rillettes and confit. A chestnut veloute was rich and smooth, although the coddled quail egg in the center didn't add anything but a smudge of color.

An artichoke was spread apart like the flower that it is, with tender leaves around the edge and a heap of aioli tinted with saffron in the center. It was topped with battered and fried bits of the stem. The best part was the heart, soft but not squishy, with the unique, hoppy flavor of the best artichokes. It was steamed, but it was a little too oily, and despite the thoughtful presentation, the whole never became greater than the sum of its parts.

No such complaint about the halibut. The fish had the Arctic whiteness you'd expect, in a warm sea of creamy sauce, flavored and studded with clams, chorizo and tender chunks of potato. It was sweet and subtle and buttery.

Served as an entrée, tender halves of delicata squash served as bowls for black beans, topped with breadcrumbs and a bit of parmesan. Also inside were leaves that seemed like collards, although the menu said broccoli raab. The texture of the greens didn't quite work: they created a waterproof barrier between the beans and the squash. These greens were particularly unnecessary given the bed of kale on which the squash rested, which was saturated with cream for a satisfying balance of hearty and decadent.

A fine interlude

By contrast, the dining room is ascetic. It looks like it's still under construction, with lots of bare wood, including beautifully grained and polished wooden tables and a wooden floor. Pale gray panels line the walls, without a single piece of art. It's stylish, though possibly too industrial for a place that serves a rib-eye for two with Bordelaise sauce.

But the real problem with the design is the acoustics, which are terrible. I had trouble hearing my date, and I also had trouble, at times, understanding what the servers were saying. It wasn't loud, exactly. It was more like all sound was sucked up into a void of white noise. Some kind of music was playing during dinner, but I couldn't pick out a song. I'm not even sure what kind of music it was.

There was also a slight misunderstanding about dessert that might have been a mis-hearing. But when it came, the cool, delicate semifreddo over a layer of crackly nougat was worth the wait. It came ringed with an intense chocolate sauce that didn't overwhelm, but played its part in a medley that changed slightly with each bite. This dream of a dessert made the dinner seem like an interlude.

A fine interlude, but not a revelation.

June, 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday, 2215 E. Burnside, 503-477-4655, entrees $13-$24

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