Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sneak Peek- Urban Farmer

So this past weekend, I got a chance to get inside and see (and sample) the cuisine at Urban Farmer, a self described "modern steakhouse" housed in Portland's newest luxury hotel, The Nines. As I walked into the lobby of the Nines, I was blown away by just how stylish and well appointed the a hotel this is. I spotted Ian Gilula and Aaron Frankel, two of the premier glass artists in the Pacific Northwest installing a hanging chandelier as I walked into the large, open atrium. This is a new level of hotel in Portland, while I wouldn't blink twice to see this in New York City, it is a whole new level of luxury for little Portland Oregon.
Situated on the main lobby floor of the Nines, Urban Farmer is a sleek polished restaurant with a variety of looks seamlessly blended into the whole. Cow print booths, LCD screens filled with art, an alcove filled with house pickled veggies and a library room finished with a long sleek modern bar. My description may be lacking, but the overall result is a beautiful restaurant.
My dining companion and I drew an appetizer, entrees, a side and dessert from buckets, a common practice in restaurant dry runs as it gives the kitchen some experience and allows the staff to develop a level of comfort serving the menu. We were promptly seated at the long, sleek bar and as I looked around, I noticed that the restaurant is manned by some of the best servers and bartenders in the city. Urban Farmer has assembled a veritable all star team of front of house staff, and I was surprised how many people that I know, respect and admire are going to be on staff here.
We put our orders in at the bar, and a few moments later, a very pleasant surprise arrived at our table. Pumpkin bread, baked in a tin can and decanted tableside, served with regular butter and apple butter. It was moist, fragrant and delicious. Even better, the butter arrived spreadable (I hate hard pats of butter in restaurants) and the apple butter was complex and spicy.
I had drawn an appetizer of Lamb Sweetbreads, with lamb bacon and a sauce that escapes me. I love sweetbreads, and this dish made me look at sweetbreads in a completely different way. These were tender and delicious and the lamb bacon added another unusual touch to the dish. The sweetbreads were served on a bed of greens adding a nice bitterness to the sweetness of the sweetbreads and the salty crunch of the lamb bacon. This was a very complex and well prepared dish and I'll definitely be ordering it again.
Next up, my dining companion had drawn a 16 oz NY Steak and vegetable fricasee, while I had gotten a Porchetta dish and a side of Hen of the Woods mushrooms. While my companion was clearly enjoying his steak, I didn't have a chance to sample it. The vegetable fricassee was really well done, simple, but well composed and very tasty. My porchetta arrived with a small cruet next to it which my server promptly poured around the dish and announced that it was a bacon broth. Bacon broth with porchetta? Have I died and gone to heaven? This was a truly fantastic dish, spicy with peppers but deep and almost haunting in its complexity. I loved this dish, this is one of the best things that I have ever eaten in several years, I could die happy if this was the last flavor in my mouth. And the Hen of the Woods mushrooms were a revelation. I don't recall ever having Hen of the Woods mushrooms before but these were quite simply delicious. They were perfect with my porchetta, although I did imagine them complementing my dining partners NY steak perfectly. Of course, they were so good that I preferred to keep them to myself.
I managed to taste Urban Farmer's 12 day old rye whiskey, made by the fine people at House Spirits. This is definitely a young spirit, feisty and hot. I generally prefer my rye to have quite a bit of age on it, but this is a well made rye and I'd really be curious to see how it does with some age. Did I mention that there are 3 barrels of this rye behind the bar, aging for a few years before they plan on opening the casks. Until then, this young spirit is the only style available, and with the talented team of bartenders behind the bar, I'm very curious to see what cocktails they develop with this rye.
Finally, dessert arrived in the form of Mud Pie. I'm not a big dessert eater, and at this point I was happily full, but I couldn't resist a bite or two. Perfect. It was simply perfect, I'll leave it at that.
Now, please don't take this as a review. It isn't. This is merely a description of my experience at Urban Farmer during a practice service prior to opening. I've opened plenty of restaurants and there are always challenges that come with each opening. However, I did have one of the better meals of my life at Urban Farmer, and I'll be returning eagerly to try more of the menu when they open on the 16th. I think Urban Farmer is going to be a signifigant addition to Portland's culinary scene and I'm happy to have them on the scene. I'd like to thank the entire staff and management team at Urban Farmer for their hospitality and generosity during my visit. Best of luck to all of you and I'm looking forward to returning soon.


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