Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Navarre in Portland


Recommended Posts

I've been hearing and reading a lot about a new restaurant in Portland. Nivarre is on the east side at the intersection of 28th and Burnside. The area has quickly become a hot spot for restaurants and wine. Noble Rot opened there sometime in the last year and Esparza's and Taqueria Nueve have been around longer.

I have yet to go to Nivarre. It would be interesting to hear what people here have to say before going and then follow up on the thread afterward.

Has anybody been yet?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I posted this in the fall when they first opened:

We ate at this just-opened wine bar last night and had an amazing meal. (Disclosure...I sold them olive oil, but that just proves they know good food). John Taboada and Alton Garcia, both fresh from Genoa, cook a nice lineup of small plates. We started with frico, a crispy cheese 'cracker' made by spreading grated parmigiano in a hot dry skillet, went to a lentil and beet salad with walnut oil, and a plate with separate mounds of celery root and carrot salad. I had milk-braised pork, thinly sliced and served in a pool of the braising liquid (complete with the 'cheese' that forms when you cook pork like this) and Judith had chicken stuffed with mirepoix and chard. We finished with a nice slice of French roqueforte served with French butter (it may seem like overkill, but my friend Robert Reynolds insists that sheep's milk blue cheese needs that butterfat...and it does taste really fabulous).

The servings are smallish but more than adequate, and the prices (frico $2, salads $3, pork $5, chicken $6) make it easy to put together a meal that fits your budget and appetite. Wine is served by the glass, 1/4 or 1/2 carafe, or bottle.

Our kitchen floor is being refinished this week, so we're going back tonight.

Navarre is on NE 28th just north of Burnside and opens at 5 or 6 pm. Go now because once this place gets reviewed it will be packed.

Jim

That lst sentence is key. Since the Oregonian called it the 'best wine bar' in town and the WW review last week, there's usually a wait to get a table. My advice is to go early, like at 6. Tuesday and Wednesday are good nights, at least for now, because former Genoa chef and co-owner Cathy Whims is cooking those nights.

The service, while friendly and helpful, isn't exactly what you get most places. You'll get a menu with check boxes and a tiny pencil...you mark what you want and give it to the server. Often the food all comes at the same time, not a big problem since they're all small plates, but if you want to stretch it out a bit and eat in courses, my strategy is just order a couple of things, then ask for another ticket to order again. It can be slow, but the food is incredible and so cheap it's worth the wait. John's partner Susan (her middle name is Navarre, but the name also refers to a region in NW Spain...they both have Spanish heritage) runs the wine program and has some really nice, reasonably priced offerings.

Last week I dropped off some oil and ended up at the bar for awhile. John was trying a goulash based on Renato's (a Tuscan in grad school here who works at Navarre occasionally) dad's recipe. Cathy had made a Friulian-style borlotti bean and pork stew. I ate bowls of each, had a nice glass of wine, and it only cost about $15.

Be sure to try the pumpkin fritters, too.

Jim

olive oil + salt

Real Good Food

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Went there for the first time last week and thought it was great and very reasonably priced.

One of the specials the night I went was a prawn sauteed in butter and was very very tasty. The carrot salad is great as is the lentil and beet salad.

I liked the pumpkin fritters for their interesting texture (crispy outside, soft inside) but it was lacking something - not sure what. I will order again tho.

I think their wine prices are very good and they have a nice selection.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I liked the pumpkin fritters for their interesting texture (crispy outside, soft inside) but it was lacking something

I think it's salt...ask for a dish of salt when you get the fritters. The chef may frown, but the crunchy grains of kosher or sea salt (depends on what's at hand when you ask) really make these a lot better.

Jim

olive oil + salt

Real Good Food

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 6 months later...

I went yesterday, a Monday. I was unimpressed. I don't drink, so this totally has to do with the food. I had the cherry tomato and sheep's milk cheese special, the braised greens, and the braised pork.

The tomatoes were probably the best of the lot, but nothing special. Rather flat, really. They probably needed an acid to wake them up a little. The cheese was a very plain sheep's milk cheese that really was more a salt for the dish than anything.

The braised greens weren't any better (and actually worse) than I've had at many bbq places. They were probably short on both salt and fat, but it would have been nice to have some flavor. If not a meat like bacon or sausage, then maybe something in the liquid to give it some kind of flavor. A lot of butter would have been something, at least. As it was, I don't know that I would much rather have had those braised greens then some frozen spinach cooked in the microwave.

The braised pork was rather chewy. The sauce needed more intensity, but wasn't bad. But the meat was rubbery. Normally when you get something braised, the point is tenderness. If I wanted something with tooth, I'd have gotten the flank steak. Just nothing that good.

The big test for me is whether me, as an amateur cook, would have done something better or worse. With those dishes at Navarre last night, I *know* I would have done better. I do better every night for my wife. And I almost never use a recipe or buy expensive ingredients.

In fact, when I came home I brought leftover tomatoes and greens. My wife was hungry having only eaten a snack and just having gone to the gym. So I took the lefovers and came up with a quick dish for her using them. I tossed the tomatoes and cheese in one ramekin and the greens in another ramekin. On top I placed a raw egg into each. On top of that I sprinkled some seasoning and cheese. Then I took some puff pastry from the freezer, cut out rings, and formed them as lids to the ramekins. I baked them in the oven for about 10 minutes. The tops were crisp (I had buttered and salted them near the end) and inside was a runny yolk with cheese as sauce for the two different dishes. Simple, cheap, and good.

I'm not saying that Navarre has to do this sort of thing. It would have totally transformed the dishes. But I think I would have gotten much better at most other decent restaurants. And based on last night, I'd feel pretty comfortable challening them in Iron Chef stadium or whatever. It's only one visit, though. I just would not be inclined to go back and try. I'd rather give Tabla another try, just down the road. Or, even better, I'd love to go to Buckman again. Their dishes had flavor and good execution. I still haven't tried Noble Rot, either.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 7 months later...

We had a special occasion to celebrate last Tuesday and ended up at Navarre. It totally fit the bill for what I was in the mood for, both in terms of atmosphere, drink and food. I really like the space and the fact I could see what was happening in the kitchen.

We had a big plate of razor clams in a pool of clarified butter sprinkled with roasted hazelnuts that was out of this world good and the chunks of Ken's bread to sop up the clam flavoured butter that was left on the plate was almost better then the clams themselves.

The big plate braised cauliflower greens tasted exactly like my greens at home, which is ok I guess. I needed some vegetable matter, and I appreciated the lack of fat in the greens, since other things were so rich. I'm not sure that the amount you get is in line with the price you pay on this one though. I thought the vegetables were the weakest part of dinner. We had also ordered a big plate of wild asparagus and they came out cooked much longer then I would have done (not bright green anymore) and covered in Gruyere cheese. The cheese completely overpowered the taste and while this may be a traditional way to eat asparagus, it is certainly not my favourite. I would have like less cheese and more vegetable, and them to still be green.

We also had a small plate of the country-style terrine (had to compare it to what I made, you know) with prunes. I wasn't sure I would like this because I'm not a fruit and meat person, but I did like it. It was very crumbly and should have been weighed down for longer, but the seasonings were right on. It was much coarser cut then what we did, so you got more distinct bites of the different meats. We ended up talking to John, the owner and cook that night, for a while (ok, I was telling him he'd be better off making is own cornichons then serving what he had, even it they were from France), and he said he'd tried it out with boar meat, which is why he thought it was crumbly. The small plate of terrine of potato and ham was savoury and delicious. Thinly (very thinly) sliced potatoes with 3 layers of thinly sliced good quality ham (I think it was crudo stuff from Italy or Spain). It got sliced and then grilled to be warmed up. A really good dish to nibble while you're drinking wine. I thought these two plates were bargains for what you got.

The wine list was overwhelming so we asked our server for help. She helped me choose something that was exactly what I was picturing when I told her what I was in the mood for.

I would happily go back the next time the pocket book could take it.

regards,

trillium

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Big plates, Trillium? I don't remember any big plates of anything when we went. It was okay but nothing really knocked my socks off.

Pamela Wilkinson

www.portlandfood.org

Life is a rush into the unknown. You can duck down and hope nothing hits you, or you can stand tall, show it your teeth and say "Dish it up, Baby, and don't skimp on the jalapeños."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Big as oppossed to small. You can order two different sizes, I was referring to the size of the plate we ordered.

I understand some people that participate here are not that crazy about Navarre. I and my partner were, but I can understand that it isn't what everyone is looking for when they go out to eat. Taste is pretty subjective. I like simple dishes made with quality ingredients, and if you're drinking wine at a serious wine place, I like that fact to be taken into consideration with respect to the seasonings.

The razor clams with filberts would have knocked my socks off, had I been wearing them.

regards,

trillium

Link to comment
Share on other sites

for me, this is a restaurant based on intimidation.

customers are served food so absurd they don't know what to make of it, and then conclude that because they can't understand it, "it must be good."

i hope people will learn to trust their instincts more, because navarre is a farce. the pumpkin fritters? really! hot bland goop. i'd rather eat popcorn.

the country pate? garnished thoughtfully with a gherkin, we ate it by the spoonful until it was gone. we looked at the gherkin admiringly. the pate tasted great, but the gherkin really stole the show.

but wait! there was tepid cabbage! my god, you've never eaten tepid cabbage like this. it had a "cheese curl" on it! i can't tell you how the juxtaposition of that cheese curl forever changed my impression of tepid cabbage. i'll never again think of tepid cabbage the same way.

ate more than that, but for the life of me can't remember what. maybe bread and butter. anyway, we left and headed straight to noble rot, where we enjoyed a delicious "meal."

on this one i'm in complete agreement with nick (extra msg).

for the record, i'm a fan of both genoa and square peg, two places that seem(ed) to get less respect.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It's well and good to have a diversity of opinion about restaurants, but arguing that if someone disagrees with you they must be too stupid to know any better is not only illogical, it's just insulting. I'm not sure at all where you're getting the intimidation part, surely everyone is adult enough to realize that tastes vary. I certainly didn't feel intimidated, why else would I tell the chef he could be making better cornichons then the ones he was serving? This is a pretty big town, and I don't think it's a zero sum game when it comes to restaurant survival.

I'm trying to read your point in between the sarcasm, and I believe you're saying that you didn't like the braised vegetable you tried or the pumpkin fritters. The braised vegetables taste like something I make at home all winter. Being that it tastes like something I cook, I don't think it is a bad dish, just not something I'd go out of my way to order in a restaurant. Like I said before, I thought the vegetables were the weak point. I didn't try the pumpkin fritters, so I can't comment.

I'm not sure what exactly your point is about the terrine and cornichons. Would you care to elaborate?

regards,

trillium

Link to comment
Share on other sites

hey,

don't take offense, i've read your posts with great admiration for your thoughtfulness, dedication and palate. it's just that my one meal at navarre really provoked that sarcastic tone. i'm absolutely baffled that the joint is busy. i don't think people who eat there are stupid, but i do think that at least Some of them are buying into a sort of meta-culinary food style driven fashionableness. nothing we ate was flavorful or succulent. the pumpkin tasted mostly of well-used grease (maybe it was just over heated). i think the reason this dish is popular isn't because of its good flavor, texture or technique, but because it's 'minimalistic.' that's what i was trying to get at, underneath my avalanche of sarcasm. the food is minimalistic, and that style is what is really being sold--in place of good cooking. and i really mean, in place of good cooking. the cabbage was tepid and flavorless, the frico didn't add to it . the pate was tasty, i do admit, but i really found it rather silly and sort of pretentious served with a single gherkin. minimalistic food can be great if it has any flavor. based on my experience, i think: the food at navarre is without flavor. it's underwhelming, despite looking so sophisticated.

whippy

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This thread doesn't include my second visit, the visit with PortlandFood.org. My first visit was much worse than my second. You can find that here:

http://www.portlandfood.org/modules.php?na...=viewtopic&t=17

I largely agreed with Jill-O's take.

After two visits, one by myself, and one with a large enough group to get to try a lot of items, my thinking is that they're inconsistent. Sometimes their stuff works, sometimes it doesn't. Most often, though, the stuff is just mediocre.

My problem is really with the stuff that doesn't work. That "braised" ham I had my first time was *bad*. If I want bad food, I can go to any of a million chains in the suburbs. And honestly, what I'd get would be better than that ham. If I'm going to call a restaurant good, it can't have *bad* dishes. Or it has to be a real rarity. I thought the potato terrine was bad as well. So are several of the vegetable dishes there, imo.

It's not that I think the place isn't worth going to, it's just that I'd want to know what all the dishes were and taste test them first before I ordered. Also, I'm not a fan of the vibe or service. On both visits I felt like I was entering a clubhouse or a part of high school where I didn't know anyone. It just didn't feel friendly or inviting.

I should add, though, given the choice, I would go to Tabla or Noble Rot before going to Navarre. And since all three are close, that'd be an easy thing to do.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

<snip>

nothing we ate was flavorful or succulent.  the pumpkin tasted mostly of well-used grease (maybe it was just over heated).  i think the reason this dish is popular isn't because of its good flavor, texture or technique, but because it's 'minimalistic.'  that's what i was trying to get at, underneath my avalanche of sarcasm.  the food is minimalistic, and that style is what is really being sold--in place of good cooking.  and i really mean, in place of good cooking.  the cabbage was tepid and flavorless, the frico didn't add to it .  the pate was tasty, i do admit, but i really found it rather silly and sort of pretentious served with a single gherkin. 

<snip>

I hesitate to suggest that you try again since you had such an awful experience the first time, but the restaurant and food you're describing don't seem like the same ones I experienced, right down to the pickles. We had a handful of cornichons on our pate, probably at least 5 or 6 and that was the small plate. If I had been in your shoes, I'd have asked for more if I wanted them.

As for Nick's comments, I loved the potato terrine, so I'm not sure whether or not to chalk it up to different tastes or inconsistency. I guess I'll just have to go back. I loved the clams, and liked the country style terrine. I think I'm in general agreement that the vegetables are not the most exciting part of the meal, but I wouldn't say they're "bad". I'd say they were done in a classic style I don't always care for. It's not like he threw them out on the road to be run over, and then tossed them on your plate or anything. They're cooked in a very particular way. Ever actually cooked a vegetable following instructions out of early Julia Childs? That's what these reminded me of, except he (John) uses rice wine vinegar in the poaching liquid because he thinks it makes them more compatible with wine then dressing them with wine vinegar afterwards. I like greens and big green beans ooked low and slow, but like I said in my first post, I like asparagus done crunchy and green.

As for the whole clubhouse/highschool vibe I didn't pick up on that. It seemed relaxed and cozy to me. Our waitperson was great, she helped pick the exact wine I was in the mood for and brought me some chocolate to nibble while we finished it up at the end of dinner. What's not to like about free chocolate? I did see was a group of regulars having their weekly "family-style" dinner cooked for them and John come over to the table and had them share what they were eating with a couple who were also sitting at the communal table because he didn't want them to feel left out. There was a group of women eating who were obviously not what my southern friend calls "urban types" and when he came over to talk to them they told him how they don't like the tortilla (the Spanish sort) to be served cold, they thought it would be better hot. I thought he was pretty gracious about explaining why it was served cold, but I guess that's because I'm not always gracious when I think someone is being a Philistine about culinary matters.

I guess this just leaves more room at the tables for me and mine, huh?

regards,

trillium

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The nice thing about Navarre is that it's cheap enough to try it again (or for the first time, if you haven't been). If I'm in the neighborhood, I might be willing to try a couple things again. I might be tempted to ask for what the worst thing on the menu is, though, just to see what their bad item might be. It's that hidden pebble in the pot of beans that I worry about most there (figuratively speaking, of course). When I got in that unfortunate pissing match over the place with Jim Dixon a while back, I really just wanted to hear why people who like it like it because my experiences have been lackluster. If some of you would join us for PortlandFood.....

Edited by ExtraMSG (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

I tried the restaurant when in Portland in March. My friend and I really liked it, we had a great meal and the price was good too -and I knew what everything was on the menu :wink:

Here's my short report from another site (NO not that one! haha!)

<<We had a 1/2 bottle of Temparnillo, olives, almonds, bread, seared fois gras, the special of wild boar in red wine and chocolate (but not mole), chicken in paprika and chiptole, squash fritters, 2 little desserts from Pix Patisserie, dessert drinks of banuyl with chocolate and sherry with manchengo. The bill????? $66 for 2 of us! >>

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...