Grüner & Kask

Guten Morgen! I’m in a rather German mood this morning due to the prevalence of ü’s which have occurred in my life over the past twenty-four hours.

And to pleasantly exacerbate on the Deutsch(e) theme, I found out the I won an organic raw nut butter blog giveaway from this fabulous Deutschland-based Living Learning Eater. Quite a lovely surprise, I just spoke on the phone with the pleasant folks over at Artisana and they’ll be shipping me an 8 ouncer of walnut-cashew butter and a bunch of samples of the other flavours.

***

Grüner, which translates as “Greener” in German is a sleek and modern restaurant teetering on the cusp of Portland’s downtown and Pearl Districts specialising in what could be best described as Central European-influenced Northwest cuisine. The menu changes frequently, but maintaining several signature staples such as spätzle, Alsatian flatbreads, one of the best burgers in Portland, variations of sausages/brats, and a plethora of fresh salads and other seasonally-relevant Alpine fare.  And to demonstrate the calibre of the restaurant, Chef Chris Israel was nominated for a James Beard award and GQ Magazine recently ranked Grüner as #5 in a top ten list of the best new restaurants in America. Not too shabby.

Recently however, Israel has opened up next door Kask, a “modern saloon” specialising in innovative cocktails, charcuterie, and cheese plates. And due to a whim of coincidence and luck, one of my best friends, David is the head cheese at Kask (meaning he makes the cheese plates, which qualifies him for that regal title).

Alors, for lunch yesterday, I met David at Grüner which he has ONLY been raving about for ages.

The interior of the restaurant is modern and minimalist; a chic bar section on one side, with booths and tables on the other; plenty of large windows providing optimal lighting, and a casual yet cool sans effort vibe

While I was perusing the menu debating on what to order, the staff brought over a complimentary taster of the house specialty for David and I

crisp polenta croquettes stuffed with raclette cheese

Absolutely DELICIOUS; one bite and the hot melty cheese comes seeping out

As for the main courses; I wasn’t TOO “Simba-wanting-to-eat-an-entire-elephant” hungry but still wanted something where I could sample the flavours of this nouveau culinary landmark. However, with David working next door I know I’ll be back to indulge on their legendary burger and fried smashed potatoes (with currywurst ketchup nevertheless), so I opted for the half-sandwich, half salad special:

“Grüner” salad — lettuces, carrots, celery, beets,
cucumbers, fennel, scallions, pretzel croutons,
sunflower seeds, red wine vinaigrette with half sandwich: Grilled chicken breast on brioche with plum chutney, herb mayonnaise, watercress & cucumbers, ginger-pickled beet salad.

It looks simple, and in theory it is, but the flavours are complex and delightful. The brioche on the bread is buttery and soft, elevating the sweet factor of the sandwich with the plum chutney and beat salad. And the salad- fresh slivers of vegetables with the salty tinge of the pretzel croutons. Yum.

David, on the other hand, being a veteran of the menu decided to go for some of the newer items starting with this scrumptious soup:

Flamingo ridge tomato soup with dill-mustard butter

And opting for one of the menu’s newer entrees:

Grilled lamb sausages, creamy polenta & lesco- hungarian stew of sweet and spicy gypsy peppers, tomatoes, onions, and paprika.

Comfort food at it’s finest.

The service at Grüner is friendly with a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff, the food comforting and satiating, and the atmosphere conducive to conversation and catching up with a good friend (or five). I was thoroughly impressed and since I had a free evening later on, I promised David I would go visit him at work at Kask later on to taste one of his famous cheese plates!

Grüner on Urbanspoon

***

Alors, after a several hour adventure of frozen-yogurt hunting with Clare (involving a town-wide power outage/jaunt to Beaverton), chilling on Naz’s bedroom floor, and spending a ridiculous amount of time in awkward traffic- I convinced Yurop to take a break from work and accompany me to visit David at Kask


Kask is located right up the street behind Grüner, a tiny saloon with several bar stools and a perimeter of lounge seating. It gives off what I would capture as an Old Western-Portland-modern tavern vibe. The drink menu changes rather frequently with whatever unique concoctions the impressively skilled bartender comes up with, and the chalkboard in the back lists the various compositions of the charcuterie and cheese plates

David and the bartender brought Yurop and I these black lodge jello cubes to try out- placed on a bed of honey and tasting slightly citrusy

Considering it was a Monday night, there weren’t too many other patrons so I asked David to whip me up one of his fabulous cheese plates featuring a blue cheese which apparently won the 2003 Best Cheese Award at the Cheese Awards (YES, there is a cheese awards).

My dinner: Gruyere, Brie, the award-winning Fromage Bleu, some sliced apples, jam, hazelnuts, and crusty delicious bread. This was incredible! Being a recent fan of cheese plates, I have had my taste of a fair share around Portland and this is by far the best- not only in selection of cheese but also with the sweet additions to combine with (and I am NOT only saying that because David assembled it). Yurop doesn’t like cheese so he ate like two hazelnuts and a slice of apple, which really was fine by me since I had all the rest of the umami käse-fest to myself.

Verdict: Impressed! I’m in the midst of putting together a Best-Of Portland list, and just to give you a sneak peek- this will win in the category of Artisan Cheese Plates. Plus, I can’t wait to bring my fellow fromage-phile, Naz over here

Are you familiar with Central European (German/Swiss/Hungarian/Czech/Austrian/Slovenian) cuisine? Are you a fan?

What is your ideal conversation-conducive atmosphere to dining?

If you had to give up cheese or chocolate for the rest of your life, which would you choose?

22 thoughts on “Grüner & Kask

  1. Er a sandwich on brioche?? That sounds genius! I need a David in my life…that cheese plate looks so yum- I’m going through an ‘I love cheese’ phase right now, especially goat cheese paired with something sweet like raisins or strawberry jam! That’s a very cruel question but I think I’d have to go with giving up cheese! After all the wonderful memories Chocolate & I have shared, I almost feel too loyal to ever give it up ;)

  2. I can’t say I’ve ever tried central European cuisine, and while I’m not all that enticed by it I am intrigued which is saying something. And cheese or chocolate – considering that I’m pretty much lactose intolerant (and now vegan) I’ve had to give both up for quite some time so I’m going to re-interpret your question to sweet or savoury :)

    The answer is savoury for sure, I’d easily give up chocolate forever for the chance to be able to enjoy Halloumi again :(

    • I’m curious Nada, did your veganism come from your lactose intolerance? Halloumi and Ackawi are both hard to live about I’ll admit. I think I also would choose savoury over sweet despite the fact that I STILL have a raging sweet tooth

      • Yes and no. When I first found out about my sensitivity to dairy (over a year ago) I cut it out cold turkey, but as time went on I became less and less strict. I never actually bought milk or cheese but would have the occasional piece of pizza, some ice cream etc. It eventually wreaked havoc on my body and I remembered why I avoided it in the first place and cut it out again. (This was also around the time I started becoming more health conscious and meticulous about my food choices.) Before that i’d been vegetarian for a while so veganism seemed like the next logical step.

        So to sum up a LENGTHY reply, I’m vegan mostly in the interest of health but my lactose intolerance is also a contributing factor :)

  3. I’m *always* in a German mood, and obviously I love German cuisine. :P

    I would give up cheese waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay before chocolate! Enjoy your nut butters :)

  4. I could do without chocolate and cheese actually!
    But I would rather have cheese over chocolate any day. I have no sweet tooth I swear.

    *unrelated* Pretzel Croutons? Stop it. (0: What a good idea!

  5. I visited Austria and truthfully I wasn’t too impressed with the food. I think it’s because I don’t eat meat though and I don’t drink alcohol so my choices were limited?

    I love polenta! Your meals look really delicious Sara.

    PS: Have you been to Barcelona/Madrid? I’m looking for hotel/restaurant recs and since you are a world traveler I thought I’d check with you. :)

    • Yeah, most central European food is quite porky and thus unappealing to me- but there are a few gems- primarily the breads and baked goods I think :) I’ve actually never been to Spain before, but I would absolutely love to! You’re going? That sounds like an amazing trip- I hear Barcelona is an incredible culinary city (despite the fact that Spaniards tend to go heavy on the porky tapas as well).

  6. mmm, polenta croquettes?! I’ve never heard of such a thing, but I think I’m liking it! And, I have to agree with Kris above, CHEESE would be gone for good if I was ever given the choice between cheese and chocolate to live without. While I love cheese, chocolate is just….a true necessity!

  7. I loved your Lion King reference, that made me laugh and like you even more! I am obsessed with that movie :) And those cheese things..dear lord do they look tasty! I haven’t had anything like that in years, but seriously it’s time to!
    I would give up cheese… I am so much more of a sweets person :)

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