Higgins Restaurant and Bar
1239 SW Broadway
Portland, OR 97205
Date of Visit: Thursday, October 2, 2008
Time: Dinner - 8:30 PM
Number of Diners: 4
Food Quality: 9
Started a long weekend in Portland, Oregon with friends by re-visiting Higgins Restaurant and Bar. In any conversation of which restaurant is best in Portland (a topic of endless discussion locally), it is a given that Higgins will be mentioned in the top five. In a culinary mecca like Portland, anything in the top 50 will not disappoint!
Our waiter introduced himself (Andrew) and asked about drinks. We asked for some time to contemplate, and he left me with the wine and beer lists. The beer list is worth noting, two full pages, a dozen on tap, and there are separate wine and beer stewards listed and present at the restaurant. I saw a Volnay for $62, which is a stellar restaurant price for such a wine, which can often retail for $100 or more. I also noted that there was a cask beer selection available. When Andrew returned I quizzed him about the wine (well balanced and bold) and the cask beer (a selection from a local microbrewery). We ordered a bottle of the Volnay and I asked for a draught of the cask beer to pair with my appetizer course. The menu is short - half a dozen appetizers and salads, two soups daily, and half a dozen main courses. There were also verbal specials - 1 appetizer and 3 mains. Between us our group ordered three soups, three salads, and three entrees.
The menu changes every Thursday based on what's locally available week by week. All produce, fruits and meats are organic and natural - something not written on the menu. It may go without saying in this health-conscious city.
What we had with menu descriptions...
Fresh mozzarella burrata with vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and basil $14.50
Salad of gathered summer greens, toasted hazelnuts and herb vinaigrette $7.25
Soup of the Day - white bean and bacon $7.00
Soup of the Day - tomatillo and green chile $7.00
Risotto of sweet corn, tomatillos, and chèvre cheese with a sweet red pepper vinaigrette $23.50
Special - Flat iron steak with cheddar mashed potatoes and a trio of local mushrooms in red wine sauce $35.00
Special - Fresh local sturgeon and garlic green beans on a bed of polenta $28.50
One thing we did not order this time: Higgins charcuterie plate with house-made pickles $13.75 - pictured at right and even better than it looks...
Sourdough bread was excellent, paired with house branded extra virgin olive oil. The soups and salads appeared immediately. The Caprese was stunning with organic green heirloom tomatoes and uber-fresh mozzarella - clearly made on premises earlier that same day. And the basil had clearly been snipped from a nearby plant. The green salad was a work of art and very tasty with organic greens. The white bean soup was hearty and entirely pleasant, while the tomatillo chile soup raised raised the bar of excellence even higher. The mildly hoppy cask ale was a perfect complement to all of the above.
Andrew had opened the Volnay, inspecting the cork with his nose immediately after it popped out of the bottle, quietly showcasing his wine expertise. It had time to breathe in the glasses as we lingered over salads, soups, bread, and beer. The wine had great character, tasting of raspberry, blueberry, leather, and earth. The nose was delicate and fruity with no floral notes at all. Volnay was the perfect choice to pair with beef, fish, and vegetarian main courses.
The entrees appeared together at exactly the right time. The flat iron steak was perfectly cooked, pink in the center, and literally tender enough to cut with a fork. The cheesy potatoes easily absorbed the mushroom sauce, and the fresh local mushrooms added value to the taste of the perfectly aged beef. The sturgeon was light, delicate, flaky, moist and melted in your mouth. The beans were crisp, fresh, and full of phytochemical goodness. The polenta was as good as corn meal mush can be. The most unusual entree was the sweet corn risotto - creamy, crunchy, piquant, and surprisingly sweet. The sweetness melded well with the sweet red pepper vinaigrette, and the whole of the dish was a factor of ten more than the sum of its parts. Everyone at the table had a taste, and the reviews were consistent - home run!
All throughout the night Andrew was at our elbow in anticipation of every need, and the bus staff never allowed a water glass to be less than half full. All servers were polite, unobtrusive, professional, and nearly invisible. Dessert menu was equally impressive, and the four of us shared the hot apple crisp - a delightful medley of fresh apples mixed with house-made granola and topped with vanilla ice cream. Mediocre cappuccino was the only (very minor) flaw in the otherwise perfect dining experience. We all rolled happily and slowly back to the hotel six blocks away.
It should be noted that the entire menu plus a bargain-priced bistro menu is available in the bar at the back of the restaurant. Locals jam in here for Portland's best foodie value play. The hamburgers here are a local legend, and I shall have to return and try one for lunch very soon!
Higgins - UNCONDITIONALLY RECOMMENDED
Highs: Fresh Organic and Local ingredients, innovative menu, beautiful presentation, casual atmosphere, flawless service
Lows: Mediocre coffee, not open for breakfast...
Bon Appétit! - W. Ego