Hat Trick

Tasty N Alder is John Gorham's latest great restaurant.

Much like a Montessori school, Portland chef John Gorham seems to operate on a three-year development cycle. His Northeast Russell Street tapas joint Toro Bravo—famed for its slow-marinated, tender Coppa neck steak—was WW's Restaurant of the Year in 2007. Tasty N Sons, Gorham's eccentrically named North Williams Avenue shrine to brunch comforts and catch-as-catch-can eating, won WW's Restaurant of the Year prize in 2010.

Early this year, Gorham made his first foray into Portland's west side with Tasty N Alder. And while the menu shares more than kissing-cousin similarities with Sons, there are signs, eight months into its existence, that the restaurant is substantially accommodating itself to its new digs in the shadow of the downtown business district.

The left-of-center steakhouse's tables are often for two, and the bar counter is seemingly pulled out of a New York playbook. And recently, it seems the dishes are now being staged so the food arrives mostly together at the table. Family-style dining is, of course, difficult practice for the steakhouse business meal, as few want to ask for a bite of their client's plate while waiting for their own. And if a recent meal is any guide, the restaurant has responded.

This is especially important because Alder skirts the notion of small plate enough that family-style is merely one option among many: The massive, juicy, apple-brined pork chop ($22) could choke a grown hyena.

But, of course, Gorham's steakhouse is far from a traditional steakhouse: Tasty N Alder uses the familiar to unlikely purposes, or discovers uses for out-of-the-way cuts like the teres major ($12/$24), a tiny shoulder cut tender as a tenderloin, served here in medium-rare medallions with roasted yuca root and a light chili sauce flavorful enough to make me actually angry at the otherwise delectable bites that did not include it.

The restaurant fares especially well with dishes that jauntily hopscotch on the margins of the classic: Alongside one of the best octopus dishes in the city since Riffle NW imploded—a meaty Spanish tendril served soft as a baked potato—the highlight of the current menu is duck breast a la plancha, served as charred on the outside and red in the middle as any grilled steak, except that the fatty duck meat is about as silky as confit. The squash served with it only heightens the decadent tenderness of the dish.

An overfamiliar New York strip, on the other hand, was repurposed as spicy-sweet bulgogi ($15) with a beautifully pungent housemade kimchee. The dish, now made with short rib,  highlighted the marinade more than the meat on an August outing.

A delightfully oniony Malaysian-style short-rib rendang was nonetheless too conservative with its heat, dulling the often fiery dish.

The tasty bowl of radicchio, familiar from Sons, is the not-so-secret weapon in the Gorham arsenal. Served in a bowl big as your head, with soft-boiled eggs and pork lardons as big as your eyes, the patiently soaked radicchio contains the bright sharpness but not the bitterness endemic to the leaf. Even the small $5 bowl operates as a substantial (and therefore cost-cutting) stomach filler. Sauteed spinach ($6), the rare touch of green on the menu, is a Dresden-level garlic bomb. This suits my palate, but order with care.

The drink menu rewards simple pours over cocktails, and service is casual, swift and entirely on point. Most important—with precious few exceptions—it seems the restaurant's tight focus on meat cuts has allowed the kitchen to even better dial in its consistent execution and warm comforts, enough so that Alder may be the best of Gorham's three restaurants for dinner—no mean feat. It is also one of the finest two or three restaurants on Portland's west side. 

  1. Order this: One small steak (ask your server about the plate’s accompaniments) and a more adventurous meat dish to split, plus radicchio salad and a vegetable side.
  1. Best deal: The chili dog is solid at $5, but go for the $15 21-day-aged rib-eye, plus a $2 mug of Weihenstephan hefeweizen (all served from 2 to 5:30 pm).
  1. I’ll pass: I’ll still get my rendang from Batavia.

EAT: Tasty N Alder, 580 SW 12th Ave., 621-9251. 9 am-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 9 am-11 pm Friday-Saturday. Brunch to 2 pm daily.

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