Give it a Tri

Ken Forkish's tavern-née-auto shop starts strong, needs detail work.

Ken Forkish ambles into Trifecta just after 7 pm on a Friday night. He hangs up his coat, then does a lap. He works the room like a politician, shaking hands with regulars from his eponymous Nob Hill bakery and Laurelhurst pizzeria who've flocked to this spacious restaurant in a former auto shop on the gritty western edge of the Buckman neighborhood.

Then, Forkish takes up a post in the narrowest part of the pass between the open kitchen and Trifecta's tennis-court-long row of red booths, on the customer side of the bar separating chef Rich Meyer's crew from diners ordering from his broad-shouldered menu of Southern-tinged Frenchy tavern fare. An hour later, Forkish is still standing there. He appears almost-but-not-quite comfortable. One senses he's not alone.

Three months in, Trifecta still feels like it's settling into its foundation—not surprising, given this outsized project staged in a space most recently home to Spike's Auto Upholstery.

Trifecta is, essentially, an upscale tavern. Sausages are made in-house using skills Meyer honed while at Higgins. The housemade bread basket (baguettes, whole-grain rye, walnut bread and more from Forkish's Beard Award-winning cookbook) is free, but house-churned butter will cost you $3. The double cheeseburger ($15) has pimento cheese and a bun baked just a few hours before service. A selection of bourgie deviled eggs ($5) rotate daily. One steak is advertised as "big-ass" ($50) while the other is bavette with frites ($24). The booze includes a wine list that's large and diverse; cocktails that are potent, layered and balanced; and a beer selection that's disappointingly static.

Let's start with what needs work: On one of my three visits, we were served roasted grilled marrow bones ($16) that were far too rare. That beautiful bread—Ken's levain is extraordinary—turned pink with blood. And that wasn't the worst part. Atop the bones sat a thick layer of piccalilli of celery root, cauliflower, onions, fennel, cider vinegar, mustard seeds and mustard. Fat and acid often play wonderfully together, but here the sharply bitter concoction outmuscled everything pleasant on the plate.

But Trifecta has already shown a willingness to make corrections. An early menu item of sous-vide, fire-finished half chicken, which had an odd consistency and very little roasty flavor, has been replaced with a game hen ($20) braised with sweet apple cider and cooked directly on the wood-fired grill until slightly charred. My friend liked it enough to attempt to re-create it a few days later.

I was just as enthralled by three starters. The first was a kale salad ($10) with harissa vinaigrette, pumpkin seeds, avocado and a big, fluffy topper of shaved grana padano, a cheese similar to Parmesan but with less saltiness. The second was smoky Brussels sprouts ($8) topped with spicy chorizo crumbles and drizzled with sweet apple butter, which had fire, heat, sugar and bitterness in perfect proportions. The third was a skillet of potatoes boulanger ($8) crisped in duck fat.

Seafood also gets major play. Oysters come on a bun, with ham, in a stew and on the half-shell. My companion instead opted for whole—heads-on—shrimp in rich, cheese grits ($21) and a wee copper pot of rich Dungeness crab dip ($15) prepared in the style of Maryland, native state to both Forkish and Meyer.

Whatever you start with, you'll want to save room and budget for dessert. The bittersweet chocolate souffle ($9) is fluffy on top and gooey in the middle, topped with toffee ice cream. Better yet is a carrot cake ($8) in eight layers of mildly sweet cream and delicate crumble. It's a perfect finishing note. Well, almost. Trifecta desperately needs to make one change: reminding servers to ask diners at each table if they'd like a loaf to go. Because they probably do. 

  1. Order this: Brussels sprouts ($8), kale salad ($10), double cheeseburger ($15), cider-braised chicken ($20).
  2. Best deal: Bread and butter ($3), deviled eggs ($5).
  3. I’ll pass: Grilled marrow bones ($16). 

EAT: Trifecta, 726 SE 6th Ave., 841-6675, 4 pm-close daily.

Willamette Week's journalism is funded, in part, by our readers. Your help supports local, independent journalism that informs, educates, and engages our community. Become a WW supporter.