There's an instinctual pause before reaching for the door handle. There's scant proof of life behind the window. But back at the curb, a sandwich board advertises openness. The door gives. Apparently, Broder Nord is serving dinner.
If you've ever inched around the mass of brunchers sipping coffee while waiting for a table at the original location of this Scandinavian diner on Southeast Clinton Street, this empty room has the eeriness of the offseason at an amusement park. At brunch, the northern brother's front lobby is snug with diners waiting to order from an identical menu of spongy lefse topped with runny eggs and arugula, puffy sugar-powdered ebelskivers with lemon curd and lingonberry, and egg scrambles with smoked trout and fennel. Chef Mike Murray's dinner menu has roasted sunchoke soup ($5), prune-stuffed pork loin ($12), baked oysters ($10), raw oysters ($2 each) and a tin of sardines ($10) served with housemade sea-salt crackers.
On a recent Thursday night, we had the place entirely to ourselves as the orange sun sank under the soaring Fremont Bridge and behind the green hills. There were two cooks and one waiter, plus my wife and I, seated in the front window and looking into a dim cave decorated with interlocking honey-colored wood beams, a gray-painted floor and the thin flicker of dozens of candles without anyone to light. It turned out to be the best of many meals I've had from the Broder twins.
Broder Nord opened in November and rolled out dinner last month. I suspect newness was responsible for the near-empty room on my visits, though Swedish dinner foods do get less approachable when you go beyond the meatballs in a rich cream sauce, familiar from the brunch menu and still $11. Take the plate of thick-sliced gravlax, raw sushi-grade salmon cured in salt, sugar and aquavit, which is served chilled on top of braised and cooled baby bok choy with a slice of lemon and a sprinkle of dill. Its charms are subtle, but substantial. The subtleness doesn't work out for Janssen's Temptation ($6), a gratin of flaky potatoes in a cream bath spiked with a little anchovy to provide a hint of salty fishiness, and topped with tangy pecorino. I found the very mild anchovy flavor more of a distraction than anything. Swedes apparently make the dish with sweeter pickled sprats, which sounds preferable to me. A trio of little cabbage rolls ($9) stuffed with tender braised lamb and served with a gravy of pureed turnips below and a sweet-tart lingonberry jam on top fell into the same chasm; unfamiliar flavor combinations that don't win immediate allegiance.
On the other hand, a sole fillet ($14) served in parchment paper with a bright chutneylike lemon-dill pesto sauce and a little starchy celery root was flawless. If the room were brighter, I might have spent some time picking the last bits of sweet and buttery fish off the brown paper. Also excellent was the beef a la Lindström ($11), another Swedish classic comfort: A sort of open-faced burger, it's a beef-and-beet patty topped with a smoky red tomato aioli, a second vinegary tomato sauce the house calls "catsup" and pieces of rutabaga, parsnips and carrots.
Desserts are wonderful, especially the tos-cakaka, a rich buttermilk spongecake topped with almond praline and soaked in ultra-smoky caramel sauce.
The aquavit- and juniper-heavy cocktail list, a holdover from brunch, could use an update for dinner, when such drinks read more as apéritifs. I found myself preferring to sip a Stiegl Radler—the Zima of Europe—as I looked out at the red and white lights blinking across the bridge, and then back to the bizarrely empty room.
- Order this: Curried cauliflower ($6), roasted Brussels sprouts ($6), sole fillet ($14) and beef a la LindstrÃ¶m ($11).
- Best deal: The âgardenâ course offerings are very large for $6.
- Iâll pass: Cocktails, Janssenâs Temptation ($6).
EAT: Broder Nord, 2240 N Interstate Ave., 282-5555, broderpdx.com. 9 am-3 pm for breakfast and lunch daily. 4-6 pm for happy hour and 5 pm-late for dinner Tuesday-Saturday.