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.
This Is an Indie Cheese Town
Before your insipid, dyed-yellow cheddar existed, the world only knew varieties of cheese now dubbed "artisan." Truth is, there are very few things more humble than French folk making cheese high in the Alps—which is why you ought to love Comté: It's indie cheese; it comes from a cow's teat; it's smooth, buttery and delicious; it goes as well with beer as with Burgundy; and it's far less pretentious than a Pinback fan. New York-based cheese experts/importers Daphne Zepos and Jason Hinds teach a class about Comté at Northeast Portland cheese mecca Foster & Dobbs. Call ahead to reserve your spot. MIKE THELIN. Foster & Dobbs, 2518 NE 15th Ave. 284-1157. 7:15 pm Thursday, March 1. $15; reservations required. Visit fosteranddobbs.com.
People on average scarf down more than 1,100 meals each year, which is why experts say we shouldn't be all willy-nilly about what, how and when we eat. "Mindful Cooking/Mindful Eating" is a class presented by a former Buddhist monk, a nutritional therapist and a top chef to promote and develop a holistic approach to choosing, eating and enjoying nourishing food. The five-hour class costs $180 and includes a meal. MIKE THELIN. Portland Health and Wellness, 1821 SE Ankeny St. 236-4506. 9 am Saturday, March 3.
Dish Roundup: Veggie-friendly
Is it the kicky apple-lemon-ginger juice at this vegan cafe inside Yoga in the Pearl? Or the giant Southwestern Salud salad with black beans, rice, avocado and romaine? Or the delectable pâté of the day served with flax crackers (on our visit it was cashew hummus). Whether you're coming off a hot-yoga high or wandering in off the street, Blossoming Lotus inspires you to savor every bite and ohm with pleasure. CARIN MOONIN. 925 NW Davis St., 228-0048. Breakfast, lunch and early dinner daily. $
You're in the mood for Indian. But you really could go for a salad. Or a wrap. But you still want to hear some techno while you quaff a cocktail. Kalga is your place. This hippie-meets-hipster haunt serves a mixed bag of organic, South Asian-ish vegetarian cuisine, from a fresca salad with olives, roasted red peppers, almonds and greens to the chole bhatoore, a spicy, garbanzo-based stew. CARIN MOONIN. 4147 SE Division St., 236-4770. Dinner and late-night daily. $
The relaxed feel of this downtown vegan establishment is as welcoming as its food. You don't have to be a PETA activist to enjoy the grinder or a faux-chicken burger, both of which are healthy and scrumptious. And the cakes, courtesy of Sellwood's Piece of Cake bakery, are so good you almost won't believe they're dairy-free—the mark of great vegan food. LAURA PARISI. 412 SW 4th Ave., 226-3400. Breakfast, lunch and early dinner Monday-Saturday. $
The beauty of this joint is its comprehensive menu of faux meat mixed with standard Chinese fare. You won't know the difference between the veggie crab Rangoon and the real deal, and although the shredded "beef" (actually stir-fried tofu) with tangy sauce is a little soggier than the real thing, it's delicious. But beware the buffet: Come mid-afternoon, it veers into the limp zone. LAURA PARISI. 22 NW 4th Ave., 274-0160. Lunch and dinner daily. $
Filbert's Cafe, 1937 NW 23rd Place, 222-2130, filbertscafe.com. Dinner 5-9 pm Tuesday-Thursday, 5-9:30 pm Friday-Saturday. $$$.