In a perfect world, Holdfast is pretty much perfect.
Just before dusk, you arrive at a semi-industrial street, where the neighboring car dealership recently took down its barbed wire. Inside a sparsely decorated cocoon that could double as a sound stage but for the L-shaped bar and a few barrels of aging pinot, you find two eager young chefs wearing gentlemanly leather-strapped aprons. They know your name and show you to your seat. They bring an aperitif and paint the scene of their drive out to the foggy coast to grab the fresh geoduck clams you're about to eat. There are no servers or even dishwashers—two guys do it all. No need to fret the order; three well-coursed hours later, you emerge sated, smarter and perhaps with a couple of new friends.
But, of course, the world is not always so perfect. Say you bought that $95 ticket a few weeks in advance, and you're still chasing off a bug. Maybe your date isn't feeling up for a marathon meal on a Sunday night. And maybe you're allergic to shellfish. In that case, you might end up sitting alone in a dark room with a leaky nose, finishing your second drink on an empty stomach, surrounded by happy chatter and eyes made.
The inevitability of those situations has always dimmed my enthusiasm for Portland pop-ups. We're not talking about a chef from a Michelin-starred restaurant who rents out a roach coach to surprise office drones with foie gras tacos. Rather, we're talking about a chef-friendly restaurant that operates in the same cheap, no-frills space for months or years and employs a strict reservation system. It's exactly what so many chefs want and yet are afraid to ask for. But in a city with sympathetic eaters and a rah-rah food press, it's proven sustainable. And in the case of Holdfast's 228th dinner, I'm glad of that.