Filbert's kitchen reflects chef-owner Bill Sutherland's utter amazement over the ingredients we take for granted here. Sutherland is an East Coast transfer, and when he opened his 35-seat, umber-hued Northwest Portland cafe in November 2005, he was mesmerized by local fare like Carlton Farms pork and Totten Inlet mussels.
And he still is: Filbert's current menu is a short list of the region's icons, freshly delivered. And if the list is boxed in by expected Northwest entrees, from braised lamb shanks and pork chops to New York strip, rest assured that most are prepared well and presented with modest flair.
On one visit, roasted petrale sole ($23) was curled up on a lemony risotto shot through with tarragon. And the pork chop ($21), a dig-your-teeth-in choice, arrived grilled with roasted golden beets, caramelized parsnips and fennel. A chunk of pan-seared sturgeon ($24) hunkered on a bed of braised kale, black-eyed peas and wild mushrooms, gussied up with a red wine and mustard sauce. For a wild fish, it tasted tame, maybe because it was overdone. A better bet? That New York strip ($28), sided by a butternut squash gratin and resting under a demi-glace laced with blue cheese.
Despite the modest plates, the prices aren't exactly cheap. Add on a salad (try the peppery baby-arugula salad, so bright and tart the greens taste fresh-picked), a glass of wine and a nice vanilla-bean crème brûlée ($6.50), and the bill effortlessly reaches $50. Feeling flush? Try appetizers like sweet little vertically built crab cakes ($10), stacked atop lines of pretty cilantro cream, or chubby pork dumplings ($7) in a clean salad of daikon, cucumber and carrot.
And about that name? Yes, the restaurant's theme is "the filbert"—a.k.a. the hazelnut, and when sprinkled throughout a field-greens salad ($6.50) chunked up with Rogue River Creamery's Smokey Blue, the Oregon nuts prove a worthy centerpiece. When you arrive, you're even greeted by a tub of filbert butter (watch out, it's more bitter than the routine spread).
Filbert's isn't without its problems, especially on the wine list. About 50 bottles show up in the well-thought-out selection, including Northwest studs like Dunham Cellars and Abacela. But where were they?
On one visit we asked for Three Rivers Winery's Cabernet Sauvignon, 2002, at the wonderful price of $30. Gone. As was Dunham Cellars' cab ($68) and Cristom's Mt. Jefferson Cuvée Pinot Noir ($46). Jeez. A strike-out like that doesn't happen often at a well-managed restaurant.
In truth, jaded diners will be less than thrilled by the limited menu at this Northwest hideaway. But if you're not in the market to reinvent the restaurant wheel, Filbert's makes a fine choice for an intimate dinner, and you will surely feel welcome—with or without the nuts.