A portrait of Sherwood Dudley hangs near the bar at El Gaucho. He is depicted making bananas Foster tableside, his specialty over the many years he worked at Portland’s toniest steakhouse. Dudley was a charismatic service industry lifer, plying his trade at only the finest (and now, mostly long gone) Portland restaurants after his 1983 arrival in the Rose City: Couch Street Fish House, Atwater’s, Wilf’s. He died in 2018, but fortunately the tableside bananas Foster at El Gaucho lives on. It may lack the same panache as when Dudley made and narrated it, but it remains an extravagant offering after the steak plates have been cleared away. True to the dessert’s 1950s New Orleans roots, a cart is wheeled up to the table with an on-board burner ready for ignition. First into an elongated copper-plated sauté pan go plenty of butter, brown sugar and a touch of cinnamon—and once that amalgam is warm and bubbling, in go the bananas, halved lengthwise, cut side down. The spectacle really begins with a quick stream of rum and resulting shot of foot-high orange flame: The sauce bubbles, the bananas cook, and the flame soon peters out. The warm, softened bananas are then dished onto plates with a couple waiting scoops of vanilla ice cream and the sweet, rich, mildly boozy pan sauce is spooned over the top for service. Voilà! Dessert and a show for the price of one.
319 SW Broadway, 503-227-8794, elgaucho.com. 4:30-10 pm Tuesday-Thursday, 4:30-11 pm Friday-Saturday. $16 per person (minimum order of two).