Friday, March 14, 2014

Scenes from Portland Dining Month: The Bent Brick

For me, eating out is an opportunity to enjoy dishes that I normally don't prepare at home. Thus, every year I look forward to March 1st-31st, when I can choose three courses for $29 from more than 90 participating restaurants during Portland Dining Month. And, if I can't decide where to go, I can always "Spin the Wheel of Deliciousness!" This year I was one of a dozen Portland bloggers chosen to share my experience at a specific restaurant during Portland Dining Month. My destination: The Bent Brick in NW Portland.

While I like the convenience of making dining reservations via my OpenTable account, The Bent Brick only takes reservations by phone. It's a missed opportunity to accumulate Dining Rewards Points, which can be redeemed for checks to be used at any OpenTable restaurant. As an added bonus, when guests make Dining Month reservations through OpenTable, Downtown Portland donates money to the Oregon Food Bank. A definite win-win!

I called the restaurant to make a reservation for Tuesday, March 11th. I left a message; my call was returned the following day and my reservation for two people was confirmed. Unfortunately, I had to cancel at the last minute but was able to secure another reservation for Thursday, March 13th. The hostess very considerately asked if we would be celebrating a special occasion (no) and if we have any dietary restrictions (none).
My husband, Greg, and I arrived at the restaurant on time for our reservation at 6:15pm. We were given a choice of tables for two in the cozy, candlelit space and were offered both the regular menu as well as the special Dining Month menu. Our server, Camille, explained that the restaurant takes pride in using local suppliers and seasonal ingredients whenever possible. She offered to get us a beverage while we made our menu selections, so Greg ordered a draft beer. Unfortunately, Camille returned a few minutes later and said that tap line had quit working and requested another choice. She also brought us two tasty Wisconsin cheddar profiteroles with black truffle salt, compliments of the chef.
The Bent Brick's Dining Month menu features two options for each of three courses, with each course having one vegetarian option. Considering that two of the choices on the menu, the black truffle salad appetizer and braised beef cheeks entree, would normally cost $37, the $29 3-course menu can represent a great value.
Greg & I usually try to order different dishes, especially if it is our first time dining at a particular restaurant as was the case at The Bent Brick. However, the Heirloom Beet Salad appetizer ($12 on the regular menu) was very similar to a dish I make at home, so we both ordered the Oregon Black Truffle Salad. We both enjoyed the variety of textures and layering of unique and complimentary flavors, but thought the dish was a little salty and would have preferred a lettuce that was easier to manage with a fork.
For our entrees, we both chose the Cocoa Braised Beef Cheeks, as neither of us were particularly enamored by the description of the Sauerkraut Pierogies, not to mention that they were listed as a $13 starter on the regular menu (versus $24 for the beef cheeks). While the meat was cooked to perfection, the flavors of this dish were a bit overwhelming - sauerkraut, beets, and horseradish sauce, amongst other things. We were also surprised by the crunchy coating surrounding each "cheek" and thought they would have been better unadorned.
We finally were able to deviate on the desserts, with Greg ordering the Butterscotch Pot de Creme while I chose the Apple Crisp (both regularly priced at $8). I'm not a fan of butterscotch and thought Greg's dish was a bit sweet and too thick, but he had no complaints. I enjoyed the fresh, still slightly crispy layers of sliced apples but found the crumble part of my dessert a little too dense and somewhat dry.
In the end, Greg and I left the restaurant completely satiated by the high quality comfort food, even if our palates were still perplexed by the complexity of the beef cheek entree. It did not appear that portion sizes had been scaled down for the Dining Month dishes, nor that we were treated any differently than diners who ordered off of the regular menu.

The service by the entire staff was strong until dessert, when we waited at least 15 minutes with no explanation for our dishes to be served. Otherwise, our water glasses were constantly refilled and empty plates and dirty silverware quickly replaced. Camille explained the contents of each dish when she presented them, and checked up on us during each course to ensure we were enjoying our meal. 

Many thanks to Portland Bloggers for selecting me to write about Portland Dining Month, to The Bent Brick for providing the gift certificate that covered dinner for two people, and to Watershed for their communications guidance. I'm grateful for the opportunity to experience a new restaurant, and hope to make time to get to a few more places before the month is over.

The Bent Brick is located at 1639 NW Marshall St, Portland, OR 97209. You can make a reservation by calling (503) 688-1655. They are open for dinner 4-9pm (Tue/Wed/Thurs/Sun) & 4-10pm (Fri/Sat). The restaurant is closed Monday.

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