Saturday, February 19, 2011

Portland Part 1 of 3: Broder and Gruner

Any desire to begin this narrative with neo-urban pastoral reflections of just how I became enamored with the Pacific Northwest has been quashed. Thanks to the Independent Film Channel’s six part mini-series, Portlandia, that story is now relegated to ridicule. The sketch comedy show satirizes Portland stereotypes: Feminist books stores and fixed speed bikes, hotel hipsters and web-addicted yuppies; the show even skewers farm to table dining.

Portlandia is funny, and all its attacks legitimate, but its formula for success is not all that unpredictable. Sketches are built - like all good satire - around irony, situational hyperbole, and overstatement.
Ironically enough, there is nothing hyperbolic about loving Portland - it’s beautiful in its aspirations, edgy in its culture, and unpretentious in its pretension.

I mean, come on now - Portlanders dine at fine restaurants in fleece pullovers and running shoes. How’s that for understatement?


By the looks of this review, you’d think that Portland was famous for its European cuisine. And while that isn’t true, both the Scandinavian Broder, and the Alpine-inspired Gruner, lend themselves well to Portland’s rain-induced gloom, each with their own take on comfort cuisine.


Broder is most anything in Solvang done right. A kitschy cafe encompassing both aesthetic ends of the spectrum: Furniture and lighting fixtures that are Scandinavian cool and a medley of well-chosen antique trinkets to give cold modern Scandinavian design just the right serving of charm.


Broder’s breakfast highlights aebleskivers. Served atop a wooden tray, these fluffy Danish pancakes come with a choice of two dipping sauces. Along with lingonberry jam and lemon curd, maple syrup is also available.


Broder’s other notable breakfast offering is its line of baked eggs. This one, made of wild mushrooms and leeks is served with walnut toast and a seasonal side of your choice, at the time including a wedge of baked acorn squash served sweetened with brown sugar and crispy sage.


In terms of taste, design, and attention to detail, Broder is worthy of a repeat. From the bold seasoning of its egg dish to its ritualistic presentation of coordinated pan covers, Broder is mornings done well.


2508 SE Clinton St
Portland, OR 97255

GQ magazine’s Alan Richman declared Gruner America’s fifth best new restaurant in its Dec. 2010 issue. How convenient to be heading to Portland. I approached this restaurant with that bestowing in mind. Just how good is fifth best? In all of the United States. It sounds crazy.

Emphasizing Central European influences, but asserting its Portland state of mind, Gruner plays it safe so as to not be called out on authenticity. Smart move.


For dinner, Gruner is uber-refined dining. Its workforce is smart and dapper, but surprisingly, only mildly cold (perhaps it was the camera?). Ambience is key to the experience here - it’s clean, dark, and intimately compact.

Along with following the snack trend, starters include charcuterie and cheese plates as well as soups, terrines, and other European influenced delicacies.
Its smaller cheese plate includes an alpine cheese, toasted hazelnuts, apples, muesli cracker, and quince paste. While carefully arranged, its simplicity will appeal to some, but aside from careful arrangement, it felt like a home eaten snack. Its celery root and potato soup was rich and consistent. It was served piping hot.


Main dishes include a spaetzle dish (profile varies by season). Its winter spaetzle is of buckwheat, braised rabbit, hedgehog & black trumpet mushrooms, thyme, and crispy shallots. If, like me, this is your first time spaetzling, you’ll find it familiar to a smaller-sized dumpling. Gruner’s rendition is both tasty and fun in its mound-like presentation which makes for good “forkplay”. Having no point of reference for spaetzle, I found its chewy texture homey and delectable.


Duck confit with roasted squash and dumplings make up one of Gruner’s protein plates. Its side of pickled cabbage is most likely one those acquired tastes that one comes to eventually appreciate, but its duck is tender and moist. The squash and dumplings are also an instant pleasure.


Along with “Dutch baby” pancakes, terrines, and poached pears, Gruner serves donuts. This trio is filled with warm raspberry filling and begins with a toothsome exterior which soon gives way to its soft innards.

Gruner is charming in its visual austerity and precise in its delivery. Is it the top fifth best new restaurant in America? Who really knows. But its transplant of European tastes and ideas into an area of the country that has similar sensibilities makes it a smart choice for a gray day.


527 Southwest 12th Avenue
Portland, OR 97205

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