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