This feels weird to say about a restaurant that charges $150 a diner, but I’m rooting for Tercet.
Located in the mezzanine of downtown’s historic Morgan Building, Tercet is the rebirth of beloved prix fixe seafood restaurant Roe, which closed due to the pandemic just as head chef John Conlin felt he was coming into his own.
I’ve maintained that Roe (first opened under chef Trent Pierce; Conlin took the helm in 2018) would be one of the few Portland restaurants to get a Michelin star if the company handed those out in the Pacific Northwest, and its rebirth as Tercet maintains those high standards.
Tercet, which means three lines of poetry, expands somewhat from the fish-only Roe, adding a meat course or two to its menu, like a recent plate that capitalized on this year’s never-ending morel season, served draped over a tender beef tartare with a pond of hollandaise sauce, all meant to be assembled like little tacos in a bright green onion crepe.
Conlin says that by adding meat dishes to the lineup, he can avoid ordering fish that has to be flown in from around the globe, ensuring that the proteins are all hyperlocal and seasonal. A beautifully, lightly poached wild Chinook was a pop of pink in a green sorrel sauce with toothsome English peas and a dusting of Dutch rye bread crumbles. And yet that will make way for a late summer poached sole dish with tomato dashi, grilled haricots and a chicken fat crumble.
Tercet is also hanging on in downtown, which is a very different place than it was four years ago—one of the doors to the Morgan Building was boarded up, and while waiting for our ride-share post-dinner, a man wandered the block screaming at the top of his lungs.
On the one hand, it feels a little wrong to sip excellent sparkling wine and dine on dishes with tweezer-placed microgreens while Rome burns. Serious economic disparities and policy failures continue to plague our city. On the other hand, Tercet is one of a shrinking group of wildly creative fine-dining restaurants that serve only prix fixe meals: Erizo, Holdfast and Beast are all gone; Castagna has yet to reopen.
When done right, such places push boundaries and bring together flavors that challenge and surprise even the most experienced eaters, such as Tercet’s pine nut ice cream served with a pine cone syrup and spruce tip powder that tastes how a walk in a Pacific Northwest rainforest feels. I’d hate to lose that.
Conlin is joined by two other Roe alums—chef Wyatt VandenBerghe and sommelier Michael Branton, who all take turns running out the plates, while Branton offers a globe-trotting wine list that strays from Tercet’s local-food-only ethos but is the right call to get the perfect pairing.
A dish called simply “egg” on the one-ingredient-per-course menu turned out to be a perfectly jammy yolk spooned over cherry tomatoes at the height of their acidic sweetness along with a dollop of caviar that popped with salty delight. Diners are also greeted by an array of “snacks,” my favorite of which was a raw oyster with a frozen cucumber granita on the top, and…more caviar.
With the end of summer in mind, Conlin says he’s got big plans for peach season, including making noyaux out of the pits and infusing it into ice cream or pastry filling and making sure the “perfect chanterelles” that just came in get into a dish with sweet corn. That’s the kind of future we can all hope for.
EAT: Tercet, 515 SW Broadway, #100, 971-865-2930, tercetpdx.com. 5:45-10 pm Wednesday-Saturday. Wine pairings $85 per person, $135 for two. Reservations and proof of vaccination required.