Will Preisch is one of Portland's best comeback stories. In 2011, the talented young chef brought high-modernist molecular gastronomy cuisine to Bent Brick. Portland wasn't quite ready for the Cleveland-raised chef's clever and playful powders, gelées and housemade fruit roll-ups. Preisch left and Bent Brick retooled, then closed unceremoniously.
Out in the wilderness, Preisch connected with Portland-born wunderkind Joel Stocks, whose childhood hobbies included making recipes from the French Laundry cookbook and catering parties for his mother and older sister.
Together, they found a way to make highbrow food-nerd fare work well in a city that tends to latch tightest onto "authentic" ethnic and fancy burgers. Holdfast succeeds by masking their geeky impulses with fresh seafood and local produce, then presenting courses too quickly for diners to think too hard about how closely the little red duck hearts on their plate resemble the little red cherries also on their plate.
A pop-up in name only, the long-running series has been in the tasting room of Fausse Piste winery since 2014. The menu changes every meal, but tends to combine science-y preparations like a round sheet of spiced and frozen watermelon, or Nancy's Organic Yogurt in powdered form with more approachable ingredients like a narrow steak of seared albacore surrounded by Smurf-sized pickled shimeji mushrooms.
Holdfast's greatest limitation is also its strength: Preisch and Stocks are your cooks, servers and dishwashers. The only other party is natural wine darling Dana Frank, who now does the pairings. That means that you get an intimate experience where the chef's passion for the food is readily on display and where every question is greeted with an enthusiastic and detailed response. On the other hand, the operation doesn't have a big team of specialists to buff out every smudge, as you'd find at a place like Castagna.
Personally, I find Holdfast's approach even more endearing. Rather than take cues from elBulli and Moto, Holdfast found a way to make techy modernist cooking feel organic and Portlandy—that's truly a special feat.
Pro tip: The Holdfast guys also host an industry-friendly party called Deadshot in the same space from 5 to 11 pm on Mondays. It's a lively bar night with loud music, exotic liquors and à la carte bites that show Preisch's longstanding love of high-low mashups—think nachos made with puffed beef tendon, shredded brisket and kimchi cheese sauce or fried calamari with ramp tartar.