BREAD and BREW
Exposed ducts and rough crisscrossed beams cover the ceiling of Laurelhurst Market, the new restaurant on East Burnside Street. There are so many ducts, in fact, that it looks like maybe they added a few to enhance the bare-bones look of the place - the wide-open dining room, the concrete floors, the meat case at the entrance.
But there's nothing bogus about Laurelhurst. If there's a dud on the menu, I haven't found it yet, and everything I've tried comes through with a fuss-free genuineness of flavor that feels very Portland, and has made the place very popular.
Before it was Laurelhurst Market, the hot new restaurant, it was Laurelhurst Market, a neighborhood convenience store.The team behind Simpatica Dining Hall (still going strong) and Viande Meats inside City Market NW (now sold) took over the corner store, remodeled and opened this spring.
The new owners installed a butcher shop on one side, which is open daily and sells a tempting array of cow, pig and chicken, plus pâtés, sausages and cured meats. It's also worth noting that the made-to-order deli sandwiches here are fantastic. The roast beef, sliced to order, is good, and the house-made mortadella is dreamy. This Italian-style sausage with pistachios is packed with flavor and fills the mouth with an almost fluffy texture. My sandwich was put together with care, with ultra-fresh bread, greens, and a sharp mustard that was spread on both sides.
Such attention to detail continues into the dining room. With a butcher shop up front, you expect the steaks to be good, but they're equaled through the course of a meal by everything from topnotch cocktails to a winning dessert.
A pisco sour was a perfect stimulus to the appetite, sipped while waiting for a table (the place takes reservations for groups of six or more, only). A bourbon-based Seelbach cocktail evoked the pre-Prohibition era: Two kinds of bitters make it medicinal, sparkling wine makes it festive, and you can picture F. Scott Fitzgerald tossing them back.
Start your meal with suppli al telefono, which is fritters made of braised short rib meat and mozzarella, held together with risotto rice. They're meaty, melty and crisp. The fritters are one of few Italian touches on what is really more of a French bistro menu, right down to the onion soup, steak tartare and crispy sweetbreads.
The traditional French bistro dish moules frites (mussels with french fries) is served in three different styles, called Normandes, Belgian style and Basquaise. I tried the Basquaise, in which the mussels are flavored with house-made chorizo in a rich red broth with peppers and loads of paprika. Fries flecked with herbs are piled on top of the shellfish and crowned with a dollop of aioli. This dish has the unusual quality of starting out well but actually getting better as you eat. The mussels fall out of their shells, and the fries sink into the broth with globules of mayonnaise still clinging to them. It's heavenly.
Laurelhurst Market also serves steak frites, with a daily-changing cut of meat, which you can locate on the giant butcher's chart that hangs above the open kitchen.
The night I ordered it, the chosen cut was top sirloin (near the upper rear of the cow). It's fairly lean, but was tender and full of manly, bovine flavor, tempered with marchand de vin, a buttery wine sauce.
Meat here comes from a variety of sources, including Brandt Beef and Niman Ranch beef and pork from the local startup Tails and Trotters. Selections change, but look for bone-in New York strip, prime rib and culotte. The focus on meat has led some to dub the Market a modern version of a steakhouse, but that's too limiting of a description.
I'll be back for the mussels and to try shrimp and grits, and fish and chips, and hopefully to get another piece of dolce de leche cheesecake. It's light but rich, and in late summer was topped with nectarines, which balanced the dessert's caramel notes beautifully.
Butcher shop 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, 503-206-3099; restaurant 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday-Monday, 503-206-3097, 3155 E. Burnside St., www.laurelhurstmarket.com, entrees $13-$32