I was excited to see that Lincoln was on the Dining Month Portland list. Lincoln is part of the concentration of quality restaurants and retail spots around North Williams and Failing. It’s really one of the best barely-more-than-a-block stretches of food in Portland, headlined by Pix, Eat Oyster Bar, Tasty n Sons, Ristretto Roasters, and, of course, Lincoln.
Lincoln is the fanciest of the bunch, though entrees average around only $20, and the room has a modest elegance; a guy could be at home in anything from a polo and dress shorts to jacket and tie. Besides being the fanciest, it’s also the most local and seasonal restaurant in North Portland. It’s a sign of chef-owner Jenn Louis’s pedigree with over a decade of experience in Portland’s kitchens, including locavore luminaries like Wildwood.
If I’ve had any complaint in the past, it’s been that the food has a tendency to be rather restrained, one layer of flavor short of perfection. But that’s part of their philosophy: the ingredients in their natural goodness. And execution has always been good, so I was more than happy to get an excuse to return.
Making things easy, Lincoln had a section of their menu delineating the $25 three course meal:
I was with my wife, so we also ordered another appetizer and entree special, plus were sent an appetizer by the kitchen:
Baked hen eggs with cream, castelventrano olives and herbed breadcrumbs, 8
Oak leaf lettuce with french breakfast radishes, shallot and astoria shrimp, 10
Roast leg of lamb and braised lamb shoulder with asparagus and little gem lettuce, 24
I’ll cover these dishes after the promotional meal.
The three course meal started with a large pile of red butterleaf lettuces scattered with pine nuts and topped with shavings of buffalo ricotta. Fine dining salads have a bias towards simplicity and this was simpler than most. All three elements — lettuce, nuts, and cheese — were mild and bland. Something to sharpen the flavors, perhaps just chopped fresh herbs or minced lemon zest, would have done a lot to excite the tongue. All three ingredients were excellent on their own, but the salad didn’t exceed the sum of the parts.
Next was a pasta I was unfamiliar with: malloreddus. (Pictured at the beginning of this report.) A little googling shows that it’s Sardinian in origin. True to tradition, Lincoln serves them flavored with saffron. This is the type of dish where the kitchen’s gentle approach shines. Too often chefs are heavy-handed with saffron, a spice that can overpower the heartiest ingredients. The rabbit and tesa ragu was in the forefront. The saffron provided a complex undertone, much like a wine reduction in a sauce. I thought tesa was cured only, but this tasted lightly smoked. The pasta was very toothsome, arguably too much, but I liked it. Shavings of parmigianno added a nice nuttiness and just enough salt to make the dish fully seasoned.
The meal finished with a trifle that was anything but. Instead it was a hefty, moistened slab of three-layer poppy seed cake with cream and rhubarb conserva padding the layers and topping the cake. I was a little worried, but it was very addictive. I had a hard time insisting my wife eat the bulk of it and save me from myself. I’m not sure if it used almond flour or only almond extract. I would suspect that the pound cake was soaked in a simple syrup with almond extract, though. Either way, it made the dense cake a pleasure to eat. The bright rhubarb kept the sweetness in check. A very nice, deceptively simple, dessert.
We were sent an order of the baked eggs. This is another dish where Lincoln’s restraint works very well. The yolks were runny, the whites milky and delicate from added cream. Castelvetrano is one of my wife’s favorite olives. The relative mild brininess for a green olive contrasted well with the bland eggs without overwhelming them. Crunchy bread crumbs provided textural contrast.
The oak leaf lettuce salad, topped with large bay shrimp and thin slices of radish, was better than the red butterleaf salad. Protein goes a long ways to make a salad seem less ephemeral. The flavors were more balanced, too, with a refreshing peppery flavor from the radishes, meaty sweetness from the shrimp, and tartness from the assertive lemon dressing.
We ordered the entree special, as well: roast leg of lamb and braised shoulder with little gem lettuce, asparagus, garlic scapes, and onions. The tender slices of leg were pink and juicy inside. They sat atop the lettuce and asparagus. The small heads of lettuce were split lengthwise and cooked until al dente. The asparagus had nice color, mixed with lightly browned onions and scapes. Chunks of shoulder sat to the side. All items were glazed with demi-glace, binding all the elements together. The reduction would have benefited from a little herbs and acid, but was rich and meaty. A good dish.
The kitchen at Lincoln is restrained. The dishes are direct and uncomplicated. With their emphasis on local, quality ingredients, that restraint works much more often than it falls short. And it rarely fails. Lincoln is a neighborhood gem that’s worth driving across town for on occasion.
3808 N Williams Ave
Portland, OR 97227