Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Portland Dining - The Urban Farmer

(All photos from The Urban Farmer gallery)

The Urban Farmer is the restaurant at The Nines Hotel in Portland.  Five of us went there after a 10-hour day spent at a conference in the same hotel.  It was nice to go back to our room to relax for a few minutes before meeting everyone for dinner.

We sat at this very table, right under those screens of local bridges.

The decor is contemporary eco-chic: wood salvaged from barns, canning jars of real food (we checked!), river rock, and cow hide.

Our waitress was fun, quirky, and did not hurry us.  She had ideas and was friendly without being overbearing.  This is what wait staff should aspire to.  She walked a really nice line between being chummy with strangers and friendly with hotel guests.  I liked her a lot.

Much of the food is sourced locally so the menu changes seasonally.  We didn't know it but the restaurant is a steak house, so 80% of the menu is beef.  Expensive beef.  Had I known, I probably would have gone elsewhere.  It's hard to be hungry when the menu lists steaks that range from $29-80.  Side dishes are extra.  Eep!

My pet peeve about a la carte restaurants: Sometimes I'm in the mood to select a side but most often I prefer that a chef create a meal in its entirety.  Pick a flavor that will go well with that main dish and use it to highlight and complement that centerpiece.

We started off with a charcuterie plate ($21), which had pate and various cold cuts.  The pickled vegetables - cornichons, green beans, and onions - were a wonder, and my friend and I ate every last one of them.  I loved the beef liver pate.  I wish the staff had included another piece of bread since there were 5 of us and it only came with 4 slices.

The heavily laden cheese cart was making its rounds and we didn't order anything, though the guys drooled over the cute cheese girl.

I ordered a pork chop and G-man got their entry level steak.  You know, the one that cost $29.  My pork chop ($25) came with "caramel apples", fried cheese curds, and a sauteed green of some sort.  There was a maple-dijon mustard glaze on it that was very good.  The candy apples were so sweet that I couldn't eat them.  The piece of meat had a wide rind of fat on it so the pork chop would up being smaller than it originally appeared.

G-man's steak, which I didn't taste, must have been good because he ate all of it.  We shared a twice-baked fingerling potato tart ($9) that came in a little cast iron post.  Since I love potatoes in any form, I was happy.

Our dining companions ordered scallops ($28), another steak, and something I can't remember.  Jill, who got the scallops, said that they were perfectly seared.  They shared a couple of sides, including a beet salad.

As we left the restaurant, we made a pit stop in the "canning room".  I'd been able to see into it all night and eyeballed those jars the entire time.  I was dying to see if they were real.

Guess what: they are!  Some of the jars have seals that have popped, some have hand-written notes on what the contents are or the date they were canned.  I was very surprised.  We picked up several jars trying to determine their contents and found a variety of whole apples, jams, tomato sauces, and green beans.  As you can see, they're quite a colorful decoration (though no longer edible).

My impression of this restaurant is that it, like its host hotel, tries very hard - too hard, perhaps - to be trendy.  The decorations are subdued but a bit on the precious side of things.  It's very pretty to look at but you do so at a high price.  The food is good but not moan-like-it's-sex good.  The next time I spend that much on dinner, it won't be at The Urban Farmer. 

The happy hour menu looks very promising, and with much more accessible prices.  We didn't have the chance to go for happy hour but I'd recommend trying it.  The hotel gives all guests a coupon for a free slider ("Welcome to Portland, here's your free baby hamburger!") but we ran out of time.  Maybe on our next visit to Portland.

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