It began with the peas.
We had gone to Roost to celebrate a friend’s birthday. I was visiting Portland, and I asked him to pick his favorite restaurant. I thought it was a good sign that the gigantic dog splayed on the sidewalk out front had time to greet us even while he kept a watchful eye on his owner who was inside eating.
The 40-seat space was bright and modern, and we took a window table. The chef, transplanted from New York City, has cooked for very discerning customers, worked in great restaurants, and learned from Julia Child. We could see her in the open kitchen, moving from counter to stove and back again, a whirl in white. A single waitress/bartender brought us menus (please note: the prices are moderate—salads—to expensive—entrees and some appetizers)
We perused the small but intriguing choice of entrees. I settled on the Half Roasted Chicken with Walnut Romesco Potatoes and Roasted Red Onions; Greg chose the Vegetarian Farro with Scallions, Green Beans, Peas, Shitakes, Egg and Soy Sauce Butter.
We decided to split a bite to start: Salt Cod Croquettes with Smashed Pea Salad. The waitress brought us the appetizer, set it between us…and I instantly knew who Chef Megan Henzel was.
She had me at the peas.
Yes, the croquettes were perfect: crispy on the outside, a moist and flavorful fish and mashed potato filling inside, but it was the pea salad that transported me. That made my tongue dance. That made me ask, “What the heck is in this salad?:
Chef Henzel then dropped the bomb: Peas, check. Sherry vinegar, okay. Olive oil, got it. Parsley, right. She didn’t say salt, but let’s assume there was some salt.
There was no “and.” That was the recipe. Though my taste buds insisted it had to be more complicated a recipe than that, it wasn’t, and of course then I understood.
When you use only the freshest ingredients, flavor happens.
My chicken was simple and perfect too: crispy skin, moist bird, perfectly roasted potatoes drizzled with a piquant Romesco, set off by tender rings of red onions, sweeter for having been slowly cooked in the oven. Greg raved about his farro dish, topped by an egg whose velvet yolk bathed the grain in golden creaminess.
We shared the decadent homemade chocolate pudding with whipped cream, with such a sinful adult richness Jell-o could only envy we couldn’t finish the generous portion. Roost also gets libation bonus points: they pour Laphroaig, a peaty Islay single malt, whose taste has been brilliantly and accurately likened to “french kissing a campfire.”
I brought copies of the menus home, intending to share them here. I bemoan that Greg and I didn’t think to photograph the dishes we ordered. We were too busy eating. I emailed Chef Henzel to see if she had time to whip off a few photos, embarrassed that I hadn’t thought of doing it myself. It was good that I did—she told me she’s actually just revamped the menu.
So, Greg’s job, the next time he visits Roost, is to take photos so I can share them here. And while I will bemoan the loss of the pea salad (and you can bet I’m going to try to recreate it at home), here’s what Chef Henzel is cooking now in the lower Belmont neighborhood (menu subject to change, brunch on the weekend, http://roostpdx.com/):
Fried Cheese Puffs with Whipped Dill Cream Cheese
Heirloom Tomato Salad with Basil and Goat Cheese
Panko Fried Zucchini with Tahini and Mint Salsa Verde
Smoked Trout on Chips with Horseradish Cream, Dill and Red Onion
Panko Fried Fish Cakes with Cucumbers and Green Harissa Aioli
Shredded Radicchio with Goat Cheese, Herbs and Roasted Tomatoes
Lettuce with Tomatoes, Bacon, Avocado and Buttermilk
Grilled Hanger Steak* with Corn “Soufflé” and Green Beans
Half Roasted Chicken with Crisp Potatoes and Mojo
Panko Fried Barramundi with Radish and Parsley Salad and Side of Lettuce Sauce
Pork Burger with Cucumber, Buttermilk Sauce, Aioli and Fries
Farro with Peas, Corn, Green Beans, Soy Sauce Butter and Fried Egg