My visit to Sel Gris (Portland)
I've seen a couple of posts about Sel Gris here, but since no one replied to me last week, I've got to assume no one knows about this place. Hopefully this post will change things, because Sel Gris is the best thing to happen to the Portland food scene since I moved here in 1998.
Ok, so my parents were in town, and I managed to get us the "chef's table" which is essentially the bar with a great view of Chef Daniel Montok (formerly of Carlyle and French Laundry) and the rest of the crew in the small kitchen. The decor was cool, yet not over the top. The location, if you don't know, is on 18th and Hawthorne, right next to Castagna.
But let's cut to the chase, the food was outstanding. I'll go into everyone else's appetizer after mine, but I had the Sweetbreads, which was the best dish I've had, maybe ever. Here's the thing, on top of the sweetbreads is a quails egg that has been cooked inside pancake batter. Read that again. Watching him make this was a thing of beauty, and the whole thing was covered in a maple pecan syrup like sauce. It was divine. Every bite needed to get a little of everything, but I cannot stress this enough... even if you object on some grounds to eating sweetbreads, get this dish!
My wife and father had "Beets 3 ways". I believed the 3 ways were cured, roasted, and raw. I despise beets, but I liked the cured and raw, the latter of which had a cilantro, green onion and parsley mix that made it delicious.
My Mom also scored on the appetizer front, ordering a "Lyonnaise" which is a curly lettuce with lardon (cubed bacon, fried) and a poached egg on top. Excellently done.
For entrees, my wife had a really, really good scallop dish (wrapped in bacon, natch). Some kind of cream sauce, but the scallops were so well cooked, that their inner sweetness came through. Somehow the bacon was crunchy, but the scallops were not overdone. Dang, scallops can be good. Can we just agree that scallops are like the "egg" test for sushi chefs. The better a chef can do scallops, the better he/she is.
My mom had the sweetbreads for her entree (see above). One thing to add here, is that my mom always has a Dewars and Soda, and she actually made the comment that it was "perfect." If you knew my mom, you'd know that means a lot.
My Dad had the special Sturgeon, which I forewent, but just barely. I don't remember all of it, but it was topped with pork cheeks and had parisian gnocchi and a cider reduction. It was very good especially the gnocchi, which is different than italian gnocchi in that no potatoes, but instead stuffed with ricotta.
I had the Halibut "Mac and Cheese" primarily because the Mac and Cheese was an israeli couscous with some fancy cheese mixed in. I am kind of a slut for israeli couscous, which, if you haven't had it, is the best textured food in the world. The halibut was good, topped with greens and a parmesan chip, but not, unfortunately, fantastic. The mac and cheese part was fantastic, a dish on its own.
Oh, we also had a great wine - a Brown Estates Zinfandel. I'm not a Zin guy but this was very very good, and went with the meal nicely. The wine list was great, and the markups were exceedingly reasonable.
We finished with decaf coffee (local roaster "Courier Coffee") french pressed and dessert. The four of us shared a brown betty with apple, and a key lime semifreddo. Both were excellent. The check came with caramel truffles for each of us, topped with "sel gris" which is grey salt. The combination worked on a lot of levels.
Sel Gris takes risks, and I don't see too many Portland restaurants do that. The service was excellent, hearing from Ron the owner and maitre'd about his adventueres running a bagel store in Mexico for expats. Please, please, go visit Sel Gris. I would be shocked if this place was easy to get in to this time next year.
It depends on what you want in a restaurant as they're very different. My impression is that Le Pigeon is less formal, both in presentation and atmosphere. If you want a place where you can dress up and you want your fellow diners to be more dressed up, you'd want to go to Sel Gris. If you don't care if the other diners are wearing tshirts and jeans or if the chef is wearing a trucker's hat, go to the Pidge--you'll probably be sitting at a counter or at a communal table there, too.