Scott Dolich and Will Preisch's new food-obsessed tavern, the Bent Brick, doesn't mince words. You might be given the phrase "shrimp, corn, cherry tomatoes, young coriander" ($14) and end up with a tongue-in-cheek riff on bar menu popcorn shrimp that includes everything from a Johnny cake and pickled corn to actual popcorn and prawn butter. The pork in "pork, carrots, root beer glaze, almond yogurt" ($19) comes both as thinly sliced loin and as a crispy-moist brisket, underneath a pile of fresh carrot shavings and on top of a carrot-based riff on those glutinous taro cakes you get at dim sum. And we haven't even gotten to the "tomato" in the "smoked albacore" dish yet.
In other words, your meal will be somewhat confusing, artfully composed and more often than not very, very tasty. Here's the deal: This locally sourced "bar food" will unsettle straightforward eaters. Those who expect a familiar hunk of cow with a side of spuds when they order "beef, smoke, onions, potato" ($20) may be taken aback by the sleek modern plate they get, which reimagines the homey classic as a spectacular symphony of onion that places charred and pickled cipollinis and tiny chive flowers atop a long slick of creamy onion puree (the beef gets second-fiddle treatment as a braised chuck and flatiron alongside a lone fingerling potato).
These are geeky plates for adventurous food lovers—the flavors may be familiar but the preparations are not; each inventive plate plays pinball in your mouth with their combos of crunchy, crumbly, moist and creamy textures. Partisans of Dolich's other local restaurant, Park Kitchen, are somewhat used to this kind of thing. But the Bent Brick owner is quick to give credit for the tavern's menu to executive chef Preisch, who was sous chef at PK before he started pickling eggs and sea beans (house pickle plate, $4) and shaving frozen and dried mussels in Bent's kitchen.
Ordering blindly becomes more fun after downing a few of Bent Brick's exceedingly strong $8 cocktails ("that's just a big 'ol glass of booze" drawled a server as he handed me my Path To Victory, a viscous concoction of bourbon and bitter, herby Chinato cut with vinegar and gingersnap). The spot is lucky to have Adam Robinson behind its long, curved steel bar, making heady elixirs flush with herbs and verjus. There's an excellent selection of Northwest wines on tap, nearly all available in half carafes for less than $16, and $4 glasses of Upright and Double Mountain brews among others.
Properly lubricated you can finally tear your eyes away from deciphering the contents of your plate to consider the spot's oddball English-walled-garden-meets-industrial-loft space, which is often filled with a mix of devoted foodies, young men in jorts and groups of Pearl District ladies with toned arms and highlighted hair. The staff blast "Brick House" and "Kung Fu Fighting" during early dinner service and dispatch with the food warnings on the menu for: "Multnomah County Health Department requires us to tell you that eating raw and/or undercooked items may make you poop or barf." So the food is serious; nothing much else is.
The best thing I've eaten so far is that very fishy smoked albacore ($13), which lies atop a trio of juicy green, yellow and red heirloom tomatoes all sprinkled with those crunchy, salty mussel chips. It's swimming in a delicate shellfish broth studded with bits of purple seaweed and impossibly sweet little raisinated, candied tomatoes. It tastes like a caprese salad that went skinny-dipping in the Mediterranean. There's also a creamy, tart buttermilk pudding ($8) served with house-made Graham cracker crumbles and icy blueberry sorbet that vies for the title of best pudding on earth. Not everything works: there's bland kale noodles ($15) and jokey hazelnut "baked beans" ($5) that just make you crave the real thing. Then again, for $48 a person, you can simply eat little bites of every single dish on the menu. The Bent Brick is game if you are.
- Order this: A bowl of perfect char-grilled summer beans, smoked albacore with tomatoes, shrimp with corn, buttermilk pudding, a fizzy ginger rum Slabtown Sour.
- Best deal: Plump, smoky mussels on the half shell ($4) and a half carafe of Guild âBent Blendâ RosÃ© ($10).
- Iâll pass: Bland quinoa and kale fritters with carrot cream ($2 each).
EAT: The Bent Brick, 1639 NW Marshall St., 688-1655, thebentbrick.com. Dinner 5-10 pm Tuesday-Saturday. $$ Moderate.