I was one of the few stalwart fans of Lucier, perhaps the only real attempt in the last decade at creating a destination restaurant with luxurious food in a luxurious setting in Portland. My meals were always good with moments of brilliance. But the soulless monstrosity meme was established before the restaurant had even opened. I believe that largely colored the opinions of many of those I otherwise respect on culinary matters.
However, two people from the kitchen seemed to get uniform praise: Kristen Murray, the pastry chef, and Gregory Denton, the sous chef. Kristen Murray has since returned to her former employers’ other restaurant, Fenouil, while Gregory Denton helms Metrovino, possibly the most under-appreciated fine dining restaurant in Portland right now. Metrovino is housed in the former space of another (formerly) under-appreciated restaurant, DF. (You’d think that Lovejoy had a moat filled with alligators or something, given Portlanders’ unwillingness to consider the second half of the alphabet truly part of the Pearl. Just because it’s on the other side of the tracks, doesn’t mean it’s the other side of the tracks.) The food at Metrovino fits the Portland aesthetic well, much better than Lucier did, probably. It’s more restrained with technology and technique, plus there’s a stronger emphasis on renewing old world foods and methods. Expect things like sweetbreads, marrow bones, house-cured meats, house-cured fishes, and tripe to make frequent appearances on the menu.
So when I saw there was a goat dinner with Gabe Rucker splitting chefly duties, I knew that I’d be scraping together the cash and getting on bended knee to beg my wife for permission to go. Ironically, while I love what both Rucker and Denton do with less-used cuts of meat and offal, these two also gave me two of my best meals in my month long vegan quest. But I had no doubt they’d do even better with goat and I wasn’t disappointed.
They started us with an amuse bouche of raw oyster. The oyster sat in a pool of congealed goat consomme with just enough wasabi to clear the sinuses. A shot of jet fuel…er…vodka came with it. The dish was like a stiff slap to get your palate going before the meal.
Next came my favorite course, the charcuterie board: fried goat terrine, goat rilletes, goat lomo, goat chorizo, and goat tartare. The fried terrine was fantastic with a crunchy breading yielding to a meaty interior the consistency of a stew. It tasted like there was a wine or vinegar reduction that added complexity to the flavor. A bit of spiced fruit topped the rich rilletes. A mixture of pickle, anchovy, and herb was an ingenious combination with the cured goat loin. Though a bit flat, the chorizo had a wonderful smokiness. But perhaps my favorite part of my favorite dish was the tartare, a large, creamy quenelle of diced raw goat and chives crowned by truffle slices all sitting on chunks of pickled beets. Amazing. I could taste every element, but not so distinctly that I could quickly identify them. It was like trying to pick out one instrument in a symphony of flavors, the harmony disguising any one tone. Only the beets had enough umph to assert themselves, but then they worked in direct contrast to the creamy tartare, providing overall balance.
I’m not sure what’s happened in Portland in the last few years, but somehow the salad IQ in town has made an evolutionary leap. There are a lot of truly enjoyable, interesting salads around and this one, smoked goat and frisee with salt-cured egg and fresh herbs, was as good as any. The dressing was very creamy, yet chiles, fresh onion, and the ample amount of parsley augmented the creamy dressing and bitter greens with acidity, pungency, and aroma. Shredded goat throughout added depth — the heartiness of a meaty protein.
The baklava wrapped goat was probably my least favorite course. The sweetness was just too overpowering. The dill-yogurt couldn’t do enough to subdue the honey. The goat just got lost in the other flavors. The meat center was also a little too dense. The idea worked surprisingly well, though, and I’d like to try a more refined version. It was almost like a creative take on beef wellington. Rucker’s and Denton’s palates much be well-matched because I would have sworn this was a Rucker dish, its clever mix of sweet and savory. But no, it was one of Denton’s.
Pastas rarely excite me. So this spaghetti with arugala pesto had a high hurdle to leap. However, adding confit of goat heart is a good start to win me over. Pesto dressed the noodles as did more of the unmashed components: arugala, walntus, and parmesan. The heart was in little chunks and had the most intense goat flavor of any dish up to this point.
The most memorable and tasty goat meat, however, arrived in the last savory dish: olive oil poached goat with grilled prawns, flageolet beans, orange-mint relish, and toasted pine nuts. Carrots and mustard greens came on the side in separate bowls. I’m not sure what cut of meat it was, perhaps the goat ribeye? The meat was in thin overlapping slices beneath the grilled prawns and the relish, but on top of the beans. The goat was tender, easy to eat, and full of flavor, a lot more than you’d expect from it just being poached in olive oil. Maybe the olive oil was scented, but I think there was also a tart component. I just know it was really good. The beans were very plain and could have used more salt. The carrots were especially interesting, since they were in long shavings, almost like pappardelle, and heavily spiced.
As with the baklava, the dessert was another dish to mix sweet and savory, though here the flavors were more traditional. The flaky pastry surrounded a fragrant quince center. Quince has such a unique and alluring smell, I wish it were used more. The strudel was topped with pillowy goat cheese, a perfect match for the quince. Goat butter — possibly brown butter — was drizzled around the plate and on the pastry as well, I believe, enhancing the savory richness already established by the goat cheese. Delicious. A cheese course and dessert course in one.
A couple mignardises came with the check. The gelee was limoncello and proseco. The cookie was mint and chocolate.
I’m sure if you’re one of the few people that read this blog, you’ve already been to Metrovino and know how good it is. If so, tell someone who hasn’t to go. If you haven’t been, then what’s holding you up? I really don’t want this restaurant to fall prey to the location in the same way DF did. There are a lot of good restaurants in Portland right now, but this is one of the best.
1139 NW 11th Ave
Portland, OR 97209