Today’s post is written by food blogger and long-time friend, Lisa Kurvits, as a favor to this blogger who was unable to make it to the press preview of The Hairy Lobster due to unforeseen illness (stomach flu — egads!). I am so grateful to both Lisa for taking on the task and to David and Melissa Root, owners of the Hairy Lobster, for allowing Lisa to take my place. What follows is some background from me, followed by Lisa’s account of her dining experience at The Hairy Lobster’s gratis dinner. All opinions are her own and remain uninfluenced.
By Lisa Kurvits, Groovy Foody contributor
Okay, so the first, most obvious question is, “What the hell is a hairy lobster?” Secondly, and maybe even more importantly, “Do I really care? and “Do I really want to know?” I confess, the truth is — I wasn’t really that interested. (*But if you are scroll to the end of this piece to see what Vanessa found out!)
Should I be more inquisitive? The blasé east coaster in me says, not so much. Why? Because what I’m really more interested in is the food — quirky name be damned. I wanted to know: Does The Hairy Lobster live up to its hype?
So I did what I do best — I tasted.
Who is The Hairy Lobster?
If The Hairy Lobster is anyone, it’s the newly birthed, old soul lovechild of Chef/Restaurant Fixer and twice named James Beard Award nominee, David Root (formerly of Lutece and Todd English’s bluezoo) and his Pastry Chef/Culinary Star wife, Melissa Root (of Thomas Keller’s Per Se, and the Michelin starred, Madera). The Roots are shooting to kick things up a notch in the artisan cooking realm among Portland’s top chefs, with what they’re calling “a shared plate Heritage restaurant.”
What is a Heritage Restaurant?
It means plenty of history will be served up on those carefully curated small plates of snout-to-tail butchered heritage meats, heirloom vegetables and other farm-to-table ingredients made from 1800s inspired comfort recipes, all executed with a modern flair that’s meant to be shared.
“What that [heritage] means, as far as the food side, is we’re utilizing farms producing rare breeds of animals and produce—breeds that are close to being lost,” David said in a recent Eater PDX article.
Hairy Lobster: Genius or over-the-top?
With an ingredient list boasting lobster, BBQ pork, pickled sun choke, chili spiced aioli, fried manchego, winter tomato salad, sherry vinaigrette, BBQ duck, pork belly, coconut green curry, and spicy cucumber salad, our dinner shouted, “I have everything!”
But I wondered if what I would be saying at meal’s end would be, “It’s too much!” Everything in me said it shouldn’t work — it’s over the top. Superfluous. (Hey! Look at me using fancy words.) What are they thinking putting together all those wacky ingredients?! Trying too hard. All of these thoughts went through my mind but then — I tasted.
And you know what? It all works beautifully — in fact, it’s downright masterfully delicious.
Passion & creativity: The Hairy Lobster makes its mark
The restaurant is lovely. Warm. Inviting. Homey. Multiple fireplaces. Clean lines. Lots of rustic touches. You’ll go for dinner and want to stay there for the night, hoping that no one asks you to leave.
The Hairy Lobster (I just like writing Hairy Lobster. It somehow feels kind of naughty. Though I’m not sure that’s the vibe the owners are after) is helmed by David and Melissa Root, two wildly creative individuals with major culinary chops (see: “Who is the Harry Lobster” above), David was a chef at Lutece and Melissa is pastry royalty (again, see above) as well as a multiple medalist at the World Culinary Olympics. Trust me, we’re SO very lucky that they’ve landed here in PDX and decided to open this space.
The menu at The Hairy Lobster is divided into sections: Water, Garden, Barn, Wheat n’ Cheese — and of course, Drinks.
My dining companion and I enjoyed an incredible, innovative meal on a rainy Thursday night. The Lobster Cubano, was fresh, delicate, and vibrant. The Manchego Schnitzel (there’s really nothing better than fried cheese, is there? Okay, but this is so much more than just fried cheese!) is a sheep’s milk cheese from Spain’s La Mancha region has been breaded or “schnitzeled” and deep fried — Gah!
The juicy BBQ Duck was cooked perfectly and served with a zippy coconut green curry, that added just a kick of spice and a cucumber salad with chunks of lightly crisped pork belly for added flavor and a luxurious mouthfeel. But as good as all that was (and trust me, it’s delish!) let’s talk Jalapeño Beignet Cheesy Cream — because these were a revelation. Imagine a lightly fried, savory beignet filled with jalapeño cream cheese and served warm. Are you with me? As a rule, my dining companion takes his time when he eats. In the case of the Jalapeño Beignet Cheesy Cream, I blinked and his portion was gone. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Do I need to say more?
Now onto dessert (you remember I mentioned that Melissa is pastry royalty, right?) I ordered the Sticky Toffee Pudding which was all kinds of sticky-caramelly-pecan-nutty-dotted goodness. The vanilla bean ice cream was a creamy bonus. My aforementioned dining companion chose the Dark Chocolate Custard: devil’s food cake, salted caramel, a homemade mango sorbet and a coconib croquant (I have absolutely no idea what a croquant is, but I do know it was good!). Dinner was fabulous. Dessert — sublime.
What about the drinks? If you know anything about me, you know I enjoy a good stiff one (– drink, that is). Their House Cocktails are thought provoking and intriguing. I went with the Osbourne, which involved Scotch, Campari, and Punt E Mes (an Italian vermouth) — really delicious. Oh, and we might also have had a glass of wine, something along the lines of a 2013 Oregon Territory Umpqua Valley Pinot Noir (a really solid and well-priced glass of wine).
At one point in our evening, we had the wonderful opportunity of meeting our chef, David (the man with the major culinary chops) and I can say that I would have liked to have hung out with him even longer. It’s so fabulous to be in the company of someone as passionate and excited about the food as David (and his entire staff) obviously is. Everyone at The Hairy Lobster appears to genuinely care about providing the very best of everything from food to service.
The Verdict: Go to The Hairy Lobster. Now. You’ll thank me.
What’s a Hairy Lobster?
Hairy lobster is an imprecise term which could refer to either of the two taxa:
Each year around the holidays I try to do a little something special with my kiddo to celebrate the winter festivities. Here in Portland, there are loads of things to see, experience, and taste during the holiday season.
We enjoy the magic of the Oregon Zoo’s ZooLights each year (members get in early each year!). We’ve gone to see the Nutcracker Ballet (as well as Swan Lake). We’ve taken the drive up to Leavenworth, Washington to explore all the seasonal treasures that this mini-Bavarian-themed town has to offer (including its impressive nutcracker museum). We’ve experienced the fun of The Portland Christmas Revels, watched the Christmas ships go by at night from our waterfront perch at Salty’s on the Colombia (they also put on a great Christmas brunch, complete with giant nutcracker display, a chocolate fountain and even, Santa himself), and walked Peacock Lane (in icy conditions, even!). We’ve munched on roasted chestnuts in Portland’s living room, surrounded by a tightly packed crowd, as they lit up the big tree. But we have never been to The Heathman’s famed Holiday Tea — that is, until now.
A holiday treat
My little is a child of discerning tastes. He’s big on fashion, high on art, and honey, trust me, he can bring the drama! So going to The Heathman for high tea with a 7 year-old was NEVER going to be a problem for me but what I was surprised to see was just how lovely it could be for anyone, big or little and that’s all thanks to the details made perfect by the excellent staff of The Heathman Restaurant.
Everyone from the doorman, to our waiter, to the bus staff (who helped my little find his sunglasses again before we left), to the restaurant GM (who dropped by our table to chat with us at the end of tea and ended up swapping her bejeweled spectacles for the aforementioned sunglasses and a pic with us) — all helped to make our time there — magical!
A historic Portland hotel
As you enter the holiday tea court seating area, you can’t help but feel transported into your favorite holiday movie. You know the one where everyone seems to have a much more fabulous life than you, filled with breezy shopping trips in the big city, and elegant dining options, even when they’re just dashing in spontaneously for cocoa and a treat somewhere.
The tea court at The Heathman (built in 1927 and one of only a small handful of historic hotels left in Portland) is lavish, with a lushly appointed room, filled with cloth-covered tables, linen napkins and cushy banquettes to welcome you — all of it bathed in the glow of tiny white lights coming from the enormous Christmas tree nestled in the corner by the staircase that leads to the mezzanine and Heathman’s cozy library.
There are huge historic (18th-century) paintings by French landscape artist Claude Lorrain installed along the side wall and a 100-year-old crystal chandelier (that was once used in the U.S. Embassy in Czechoslovaki) dangling above a dramatic circular banquette in the center of the room, that is topped with a festively lit golden deer floral display.
All of which serves to make you feel like a chi chi fancy pants — especially if, like me, you typically have to save your pennies to give yourself a special treat like this (even during the holidays).
Best of all — the food!
Afternoon Tea at The Heathman Restaurant is a long standing tradition in Portland and it’s one Chef Michael Stanton and his culinary team and the restaurant’s staff take very seriously. This is traditional English high tea with a Pacific Northwest twist, using locally sourced ingredients, like the salmon they thoughtfully smoke in-house used in the smoked salmon profiteroles (my kiddo’s favorite — he ate his AND mine!)
The tea service is $32pp and includes a pot per person of your choice of loose leaf teas and a tiered rack packed with finger sandwiches (smoked chicken salad in pita and cucumber and watercress, anyone?), savory profiteroles, goat cheese crostini, deviled eggs, fresh baked currant scones with mascarpone and jam, tender and fragrant banana bread, and an entire tier of bite-sized desserts, including a layered French Feuilletine, moist chocolate cupcake, tangy lemon curd tart, a mousse filled chocolate tulip cup, and a homemade, powder-sugar dusted marshmallow.
But if your “little sipper” is not quite as sophisticated as my wee foodie, fret not, they’ve thought of everything at The Heathman, which is why they also provide a more kid-friendly Peter Rabbit tea service for your littles at half the price. It includes hot cocoa instead of tea, chunks of cheese, pb&j, goldfish crackers, carrot sticks, ranch dip, “ants on a log,” fresh fruit, a snickerdoodle, marshmallows, banana bread and cupcake.
As they say in their description, The Heathman’s Holiday Tea will “elegantly transport you to another place in time.” Holiday Tea seatings run from now until January 5th, 2016 but you’d better hurry, reservations fill up fast for this happy holiday respite.
(*Full disclosure: I was able to arrange to experience the holiday tea gratis, with the promise of an honest review posted here.)
Holiday Tea at The Heathman
November 29 – January 5
Daily Seatings at 11 am, 1 pm, and 3 pm
Monday – Friday: Seatings at 2 pm
Saturday & Sunday: Seatings at 12 pm and 2 pm
R E S E R V A T I O N S A R E R E Q U I R E D
Preferably 48 hours in advance, CALL: (503) 790-7752