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Review: Meriwether's Restaurant

meriwether's-restaurant-portland.jpg

As we recently discovered at Meriwether's in Portland, Oregon, it's one thing to eat local these days, yet entirely another matter when the restaurant maintains it's own farm. As soon as we were seated in the outdoor garden area, I was presented with the Meriwether menu, which dedicates one side to describing the recently planted vegetables that make up this summer's harvest.

When my usual routine is to immediately grab the wine list, I found myself suddenly pre-occupied in reading about Meriwether's Skyline Farm, a 5 acre spread located on Skyline Boulevard in Portland. In it's second harvest, the farm generated over 8,000 pounds of produce in 2008, helping Meriwether's truly shorten the distance between "field and table".

After perusing dozens of vegetable varieties under cultivation, I turned my attention to the wine list, which offered a broad selection of Old and New World wines, with a focus on Oregon pinot noirs from various regions of the state. Most of the Oregon pinots were 2006 wines, with a handful of 2005s and a decent number of 2007s.

After two glasses of Fox Farm 2007 Pinot Grigio, our server recommended a bottle of the Soter 2005 Pinot Noir Mineral Springs Vineyard (13.7%), which was a dark, purplish red in the glass, with red berry fruit and hints of cedar and caramel on the nose. It offered good acidity, but the over-abundance of wood in this wine seemed to temper the fruit.

Getting back to the food menu, Meriwether's offers a broad selection of appetizers, soups, salads, grain dishes, and main entrees, with detailed descriptions of ingredients, whether locally sourced or imported. Not only are there dishes for about every food taste, there is even a broad selection of half servings for those wanting to sample more than one course. Based on the variety of choices and enticing descriptions, our biggest challenge was deciding on what to eat.

We started our dinner with an outstanding beef carpaccio, which was prepared with fresh figs, farm arugula, fennel, salsa verde and Parmigiano-Reggiano. For entrees, Kari ordered the wild tuna couscous, a dish comprised of search ahi tuna, Oregon albacore ragu, preserved lemon and fennel salad. I chose the duck breast, which was served on a semolina pancake with fresh figs and a fennel and shaved red onion salad.

The ahi tuna was fantastic, which was prepared in a north African style of flavors that made this dish incredibly delicious. The duck was good, although a bit over-cooked for my taste. Even still, I enjoyed the preparation with the semolina pancake, figs and fennel/red onion salad. In fact, the figs were a highlight for me, as they were a perfect accompaniment to both the carpaccio and the duck.

Overall, we were very pleased with the attentive and friendly service from the time we arrived waiting for our reserved table to the unexpected arrival of two glasses of Port to enjoy with our Amelia's Pie dessert. The place was very busy on the Saturday night in mid-July we visited, but this never stood in the way of our server coming by regularly to check on us.

In terms of setting, Meriwether's seems to be three restaurants in one. The main dining area was closed on the night we arrived, which offers an open room with a variety of seating arrangements. The upstairs bar area provides booths and television screens, which seemed a bit out of place.

For al fresco dining, there is the garden, with black wrought-iron tables and chairs located on a myriad of pathways surrounded by various plantings. Like the bar area, the garden's design and decor seemed a bit out of place, if not random, relative to other areas of the restaurant. It's as if three different designers were responsible for each seating area.

Although we enjoyed the food, service, and opportunity to sit outside, the setting and design of this restaurant was a bit odd and out of place for our taste. While some might describe the outdoor setting as elegant, we found the old-fashioned garden furniture, raised beds, and gazebo a bit too cheezy.

Nonetheless, we would return for another meal at Meriwether's, this time inside the main dining room, where the setting would hopefully serve as less of a distraction. The food, wine, and service are all worth coming back to experience again.

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