Why Bar Lola (Portland) deserves more attention
Perhaps because it's smaller (24 top), away from the downtown center of Portland culinary life, and doesn't [yet?] have a James Beard nominee, Bar Lola [http://barlola.net/] gets overlooked on the "go to" list...but it shouldn't. SO and I eat there once a year or so, and it's always spectacular: eclectic menu with unique tastes. Last Saturday was a great example. We appreciate the ability to choose a sequence of small, larger, largest plates as we wish, and that you can do all 4 for a $36 prix fixe. So this time around, SO's first was agnolotti with an eggplant and goat cheese filling served over arugula: pasta was so light it practically elevated itself to your mouth, and taste was subtle. I really enjoyed mussels, in this case in a preparation of spiced yoghurt and garlic that was a first in my experience. Seconds (salad) were fine: a flavorful beet for one, and frissee with apple and bacon for the other. Entrees were the hit: roasted cauliflower on quinoa with harissa, where the veg was charred just to the point of a little caramelization; and my braised lamb on chickpeas with fennel, red pepper, and preserved lemon: amazing. The Mediterranean emphasis seems to be a seasonal chefs' choice, which was fine with us; probably will change with onset of spring ingredients. Wines are very reasonably priced, and good matches with the food. We shared a dessert, a lemon steamed pudding that seemed like a cross between a creme brûlée and panna cotta: light texture, excellent tangy lemon to finish the meal. One of things we always appreciate is that one can eat four courses and be very satisfied but not the slightest bit too full. And all this (including 4 glasses of wine) for $102 plus tip! I contend there is no better value for $$ in Portland. There were a couple of small service glitches (server spending a bit too much time chatting with other staff so had to be waved down several times; glass of wine with some floaters and smudges, promptly replaced), but overall, this is a great dining experience every time.