Dining Month Portland is back — now in its second year, a reincarnation of the 25 for $25 from a decade ago. Many of Portland’s best restaurants (and a few, frankly, that I wouldn’t even consider going to for free) offer three course meals for only $25. Last year, I went to five different spots during the first five days and I’ve decided to do that again this year, starting with Tabla.
I’ve always enjoyed Tabla. It’s one of Portland’s best values. I’d probably go more if I ate pasta more, but being on a perpetual low-carb diet — or at least telling myself I am until a delicious dessert gets plopped down in front of me (or until blackberry season) — usually precludes a visit. But I wanted to get back. Since Ten-01, its sister-restaurant closed, there’ve been some changes in staffing.
The $25 three-course option was a prominent part of their menu. Last year, several places would only give you the menu if you asked for it.
Farmer’s Market Lettuces
Organic yogurt dressing, radish, Viridian Farms’ strawberries
Pork sugo, pecorino romano
Forbidden Rice Risotto
Asparagus, asiago, aged balsamic
Assuming equal portions if ordered ala carte, this would be a $33 meal, essentially making the appetizer free. However, for $3 more, you can order the $28 three course dinner, a regular option at Tabla, which allows for a lot more options, about three more for each course, though the savings are still the same. The one disappointment is that there wasn’t another option for entree. Having to follow a pasta course with risotto makes for a pretty starch-heavy, protein-light meal. And since the pasta course has meat, there’s no option for vegetarians, though I imagine they might be willing to sub for the cheaper vegetarian ravioli on the menu. But with the $28 menu also available, this wasn’t much of an issue.
The Farmer’s Market Lettuces had a tangy yogurt dressing that was well-balanced by peppery radishes and sweet strawberries. Simple, but a good start.
The best of the three dishes was the pasta, a thin and delicate pappardelle still firm enough to hold up to the meaty pork sauce. Shaved pecorino over the top of the pasta added some salt and nuttiness.
The whole grain flavor of the forbidden rice worked well with the fresh and crisp asparagus. The mild acidity of aged balsamic kept the dish from being too simple, though I would guess they use water or a vegetable stock to cook the risotto resulting in perhaps less depth of flavor and richness than I would prefer for a main course. But the texture of the rice itself was excellent. A little cheese was crumbled over the top.
A good meal and a very good value. However, if I had just walked in off the street and wasn’t there specifically for the $25 meal, I would have chosen the $28 meal without a doubt. However, we did order more.
We also ordered their sous vide egg ($9) with boar sausage, nettle puree, and grilled onion cream. The egg whites were a touch “snotty” for my taste, tough once everything was mixed together, it became more of a sauce. But I think I would have been happier with a lightly poached egg. The onion cream underneath had a really wonderful vegetal sweetness almost like a caramelized root vegetable. The sausage was delicious, well-seasoned, and meaty. While the nettle puree was a little difficult to incorporate into the dish, the greens around the egg were also quite good, especially the red-veined sorrel (I think) which has an almost herbal flavor with the texture of a soft spring green.
We were sent out a taste of the chevre gnudi. The chevre gave them a tartness you don’t normally see in the ricotta version, but they still had a pillowy texture contrasted by a good butter-crisped exterior. The maitakes and argugula were excellent as well, everything accented with garlic.
The best dish of the night, though, was the “Mar y Montana” ($20, $4 add-on for the $28 menu, pictured at the beginning of this report) — a surf and turf consisting of stewed Spanish octopus and shredded pork terrine seared crisp. A savory tomato jelly joined the octopus and pork along with stewed vegetables and flavorful spring greens. A hummus lay underneath everything. The octopus was tender and infused with flavor. The pork was succulent yet crisp. The tomato “jelly” supplied a tart counterpoint. Very, very good.
We finished by splitting a dessert, the cardamom crumb cake with espresso cream and preserved meyer lemon gelato. The crumb cake had a moist interior, nice crunchy crust, and well-spiced flavor. The lemon gelato was excellent with a very good texture and complex lemon flavor. The espresso cream was light, not overpowering the dessert.
It’s nice to know that even if the best dishes aren’t on the $25 menu, for only $3 more — any time of the year — you can get exactly what you want.
200 NE 28th Ave
Portland, OR 97232