Fats gives English food a good name
Now for something completely different, UK food that entices
British food is often the butt of jokes. And deservedly so - a lot of it is god-awful. Plus, dishes with silly names such as 'spotted dick' and 'bubble and squeak' just beg for ridicule.
However, Fats - the newest venture for Micah Camden, the restaurateur who also started Beast, Yakuza, and D.O.C. - is ready to face the image problem head-on.
The name Fats, alone, is enough to discourage some diners, and a list of the dishes with the goofiest names is hung prominently outside. I was afraid it was going to be all wink-wink-nudge-nudge on the inside. But it's not. Fats may still be getting into stride, but it's on track to become a serious restaurant, not another Ye Olde British Publick House.
The menu is split into a bar menu, with smaller offerings, and a dinner menu (there's also brunch on weekends).
If you order Devils on Horseback, it will probably be for the name, but this is a quintessential bar snack. Dates are stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon, then broiled until the fat, salt, cream and sugar fuse into a rich, unified nugget that demands a beer chaser. So does Fats' version of Welsh rarebit, which is hunks of bread draped with melted English cheddar. (Typically it's more like a fondue.) This fine cheese toast really comes alive with the addition of a chunky, sweet and spicy chutney.
A vegetarian Cornish pastie was smaller than I expected and it was overcooked. The edges of the pastry were dark and dry, but a savory filling of onions was tangy and almost meaty.
The bacon on a butter lettuce salad also was overdone. But other than that, the salad was a success, with a smart combination of thin-sliced radishes and buttermilk dressing spiked with black pepper.
Another night's dinner started with a helping of warm Irish soda bread with currants and caraway seeds, which tasted great with a glass of dark beer. In fact, I might as well say that everything at Fats tastes good with beer. Strangely, there is very little British beer to be had. On draft are several Belgian beers, as well as some from Oregon and California. The bottle list is also heavy on Belgians, and light on British options. There are also large bottles of high-end cider from Wandering Aengus, in Salem. The dry cider is sophisticated and a little yeasty, and, unlike many hard ciders, has no extra apple flavoring added.
Fats' fish and chips are the best I've had in a really long time. They've caught the trick of getting a light, crisp coating of batter to hug tight to the fish, which is an excellent halibut. The fries are thin, crunchy and flavorful. Maybe that's why, on the menu, they're called fries rather than chips. The dish is served on the traditional newspaper, with a clever touch. Malt vinegar is offered in a little spritzer bottle so it can be applied with precision, rather than gush out and make everything soggy.
But fish and chips, according to Fats, is not the national dish of England. That title is reserved for chicken tikka masala. It's true that a lot of the best food in England is Indian, and Fats' simple, ungummy tikka with fresh, moist chicken has the same warming, heartening effect as the northern dishes on the menu.
British food has a role to play that transcends any specific ingredient or technique. It's got to be a bastion against the climate, something that fortifies both physically and emotionally. To that end, a little booze never hurts.
A dessert of sticky toffee pudding does the job by drenching a rich brown sugar cake with a rummy sauce and topping it with fresh whipped cream. After a few bites I was ready to dash off and win a naval battle or two.
The infamous spotted dick is another dessert along the same lines. The version I had was a buttery little muffin, warmed and topped with custard and fat rum-soaked blueberries. It had a sort of god-rest-ye-merry-gentlemen comfort to it and was a welcome improvement on the Victorian-era dish, which is steamed pudding made with suet (mutton or beef fat) and currants.
If this is spotted dick, then bring on the bangers and mash, the kedgeree and the trifle.
5-10 p.m. Wednesday-Monday and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, closed Tuesday, 2930 N.E. Killingsworth St., 503-206-8261, www.fatspdx.com, entrees $12-$18