$ Cheap (entrees less than $10)
$$ Average (entrees $10-$18)
$$$ Expensive (entrees $19-$25)
$$$$ Half a paycheck (entrees $26 and up)
Ratings are based on a four-star scale
**** Excellent food, creative items and top notch service.
*** Good food, good value and nothing below reasonable expectations.
** Two stars are given to restaurants that are adequate but need improvement. You wouldn’t go out of your way to eat there again unless changes in quality and menu were made.
* One star is reserved for places that you would not recommend under almost any circumstances.
Ox is what happens when two talented chefs come together in a Northeast Portland Argentinian grill. In a small space on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Gregory Denton and Gabrielle Quiñonez-Denton, both formerly chefs at Metrovino in the Pearl District, first opened their venture in April. Ox’s centerpiece is the wood-fired grill that juts into the dining room. The menu is designed for family-style sharing, though you’ll want to get yours before the family. The small space at Ox brings an intimacy to one of Oregon’s best, if expensive, steaks.
The beef skirt steak ($19/8 oz., $36/16oz.), served as a churrasco, is a savory array of cuts garnished with radish shavings and diced cilantro. There are other cuts, too—beef ribeye and the grass-fed Uruguayan ribeye, but expect to pay handsomely. As good as the meat is, start with Ox’s ceviche. These manna from heaven include Oregon bay shrimp, salmon gravlax and halibut tartare, mussel poke, a scallop salad and a Dungeness crab cocktail. Cocktails are creative, yet not over-the-top, from La Yapa, a tasty whiskey drink with Fernet Braca, Grenadine and lemon to the sangria blanca with white wine gin, pineapple and mint. Two red wines from Mendoza further the Argentinian cause, but the rest of the wine list is an eclectic mix from France, Italy, Oregon and Washington. This place is still young and hot. Service is very good. Call for reservations.
On the hillside of South 2nd Street just off the buzzing plaza that is the heart of downtown Ashland, Smithfield’s, of British descent, is worth the jaunt. Inside this quaint-house-turned-restaurant, there is ample seating for a quiet date or larger tables to share with friends. Local growers are listed on a chalkboard wall that is the face of the kitchen. We ventured in at lunchtime, and started with the Kettle Chips and roasted garlic aioli ($4). Smithfield’s offers many British brews, local wines, and some intriguing house cocktails. There’s the “SOHO,” made with in-house strawberry infused gin, lemon juice, Cointreau, Prosecco float and a lemon twist. Worth going back for the drink alone. The Flat Iron steak sandwich with a cup of the house cod chowder ($14) and the shrimp po’ boy sandwich accompanied by a cup of carrot lemon verbena soup ($14). All were delicious and portioned relative to their price. For dessert, we opted salted caramel ice cream with bacon beignets. It was magical to say the least.
Laurelhurst Market Restaurant and Butcher Shop is casual fare with local flair. Atypical to most steakhouses, the atmosphere is light and whimsical, with a butcher shop in the front and a bar in the back. Try the ‘Six in One Hand’ with grapefruit and camomile grappa ($9). For a starter, try the housemade mozzarella, pulled to order with strawberries and spiced pistachios ($9). The grilled Painted Hills ribeye with melted blue cheese butter and fried sweet onion rings ($38) gives all other steakhouses a red ribbon for second place. It is simply the best ribeye in the city. The Teres Major ($23) with bearnaise, arugula and pickled red onion is a tender and aromatic alternative to the ribeye. Side options include fried cauliflower with lemon and caper ($6) and roasted Viridian Farms’ asparagus with Portland Creamery goat cheese ($7). For dessert, experience the dulce de leche cheesecake with pistachio and orange blossom syrup ($8.) If you’re in the market for delectable steak served simply, Laurelhurst Market is a must.
The first question Ox & Fin’s friendly waitstaff poses is one not often heard outside of Europe: “Sparkling or still water?” It’s a classy touch that fits right in with the restaurant’s upscale vibe and stylish interior. Ox & Fin is the new incarnation of popular Eugene restaurant, Osteria Sfizio. Rather than focusing exclusively on Italian food, the owners are offering Northwest cuisine with an Italian twist. The appetizers got the meal off to a great start. The buratta ($10), a soft, hand-stretched mozzarella, had amazing texture and wasn’t too heavy. The scallops ($13) were served with a tasty hazelnut romesco. The wine lists offered quality selections from the Northwest and all over the world. The rest of the meal, however, didn’t hold up to the promise of the first course. The short ribs ($21) came with polenta, and the combination was too heavy. The petit filet ($26) was ordered medium rare and came less than rare. Perhaps the lamb steak ($21), or the torchio ($18), homemade trumpet-shaped pasta served with fennel sausage, would have played more to the restaurant’s core strengths. Dessert needs tweaking, too. The cookie crust of the lemon curd tartlet ($8) was too hard to get a fork through, and the fruit in the peach and raspberry cobbler ($7) was undercooked. No doubt, Ox & Fin will work out the kinks over time. The sophisticated setting and focus on local, organic and GMO-free food could make it a real favorite.