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Bread & Brew: Angel Face's heavenly cocktails lift spirits

by: TRIBUNE PHOTOS: ADAM WICKHAM - Bartender Tim Davey works behind the bar at Angel Face, which offers drink consultations to fit your mood, taste and budget. Introducing the bespoke cocktail.

As a tailor might present you with fabric swatches, Angel Face presents a list of spirits: ryes and bourbons, tequilas and rums, and a few more exotic liqueurs. These will be mixed to fit your tastes, your mood, and your budget.

The oddly named new bar is an offshoot of Navarre, which is next door, but the feel is completely different. While Navarre looks like a food-lover’s dream pantry, Angel Face looks like a Parisian cafe — but one that you might wander up and down a hundred alleys in France without ever finding.

The much-remarked-upon walls are guava pink, with a pattern of hand-painted flowers and leaves. The bar top is an elegant marble horseshoe, echoed overhead by a curving catwalk of booze — the bottles are elevated above the bar, as if to emphasize their importance. Higher up, on a stained glass panel, is the angel that gives the place its name.

You can order pretty much any cocktail that has a name. Don’t think you’re going to stump this crew by asking for a Monkey Gland or a Brooklyn. The main bartender is Kelley Swenson, who has been around town for years at a couple of high-stakes, short-lived restaurants (Ten-01, June), and who makes a killer Negroni.

The real fun, though, is getting a one-on-one cocktail consultation.

One night I asked a server (who was also a drink mixer) for something with Knob Creek, something similar to a Manhattan, but not a Manhattan. He produced a Deshler, a drink named for boxer Dave Deshler, who fought guys like Wildcat Ferns and Kid Shea a century ago. It’s a bracing, manly drink, well-suited to a platter of oysters on the half shell.

My date that night requested a drink made with Effen, a top-shelf Dutch vodka. There are cocktail mixers in this world who look down their noses at vodka — but not here. Our server promised to deliver a drink that showcased the Effen — that allowed the vodka, he said, to be “unfettered and intimate.” Hints of sugar and citrus did the trick, giving the drink an aftertaste that reminded us of doughnuts.

Our second vodka cocktail was even better. Mixed up with a chamomile liqueur that also contained hints of grappa, it was floral and soft-focused. It stayed interesting from start to finish.

A couple of other cocktails seemed slightly more slapdash, and a little harsh.

The short food menu consists of French bistro fare, revised for Portland. The French onion soup, for instance, is vegetarian. Bread and melted cheese lurk at the bottom of the bowl, surfacing in gooey spoonfuls. The broth tasted beefy and rich, but it seemed that someone tried to make up for the lack of meat by adding extra salt.

Too much salt also interfered with an otherwise gorgeous Nicoise salad. Tender white gigante beans took the place of green beans on a bed of butter lettuce. An egg was delicately hard-cooked, and chunks of tuna were dressed up with an anchovy, capers, and salt-cured black olives. That was enough salt without the salty dressing.

Angel Face is a place for grazing. There are four types of sampler boards: veggie, meat, cheese and fish. The fish board holds hearty chunks of smoked salmon, velvety lox drizzled with a dill cream sauce, and less enjoyable pickled prawns. A powerful vinegar clashed with the sweetness of the shrimp.

Other snacks include steak tartare, mussels, and crispy, wispy fries. For dessert there’s a crème brûlée in a very shallow dish that maximizes the surface area of the crackly, caramelized top. There’s also an apple tart with whipped cream and a layer of dark glaze that tastes like gingerbread.

I’d pair it with a drink made from one of the less-sweet bourbons, or maybe a dark rum. Because no matter how charming other aspects of this place may be, it’s always really about the cocktails.

5 p.m. to midnight Sunday-Thursday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday-Saturday, 14 N.E. 28th Ave., 503-239-3804, www.angelfaceportland.com

Speaking of the cocktail hour, I will be embarking on an extended one as I step down this week as the Portland Tribune’s restaurant critic. I’ve been writing about food for the Tribune, on and off, for more than 10 years, and it’s been really amazing to see how much Portland’s restaurants have changed and improved. You can still drop me a line at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Tribune reporter Jennifer Anderson has agreed to take over this column. I’m sure she’ll do a great job, and I wish her the best of luck. She can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..