The Hairy Lobster Hits Portland: Restaurant Review
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:
- Furry lobsters of the family Synaxidae
- Kiwa hirsuta of the family Kiwaidae