At a steakhouse, you expect the big chunk of meat to be the star of the show. At Greg and Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton's Argentine-inspired Ox, steak is only a player in a meal whose gargantuan flavors present with admirable balance.
In the spacious, exposed-brick and wood-table dining room on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard, almost everyone orders the chowder. The soup is a masterpiece: rich from milk, cream and the smoked marrow bone that sits atop a pile of fat clams, and heated gently with slivers of jalapeño.
Cocktails are dark-liquor heavy and there's a preponderance of fernet and other bitter liqueurs, thanks to the fact that Argentina is the fernet-sippingest country in the world. And on the asado Argentino cast-iron grill plate, an $82 feast made to feed two generously, the sausage and sweetbreads are the stars. The chorizo is airy and rounded with warm spice, and the sweetbreads are like umami gumdrops. The morcilla blood sausage is striking, potently savory and rich with cumin. The taters, even, are terrific. Each one is topped with aioli-spiked horseradish, a development in mayo so brilliant it ought to be mandatory.
And even if the flat-iron is a little blandly beefy, the skirt steak is set off with a masterful chimichurri. Though the ox at Ox feels like it takes a back seat to everything else, the Dentons remain two of the few chefs in Portland who can make a 1,200-pound cow dance.
Pro tip: Ox doesn't take reservations, and so even with the large dining room, expect a wait either at Ox's own oyster-and-cocktail bar, Whey—ingeniously created to soak up cocktail dollars from customers waiting for seats—or much more economically on the down-home back patio of Billy Ray's Dive Bar across the street.