Tasty n Alder
Telephone: (503) 621-9251
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Rostra rating: 3.5
Team Mago got off to a bad start with Tasty n Alder. It was primarily a methodology issue. MagoGuide’s modus operandi is multiple visits that usually start with happy hour and then progress to the other services offered by an establishment. Tasty n Alder even refuses to call it happy hour, preferring the supercilious sobriquet “mid day bar menu.” In practice this means that patrons are confined to the bar area, which can get a bit claustrophobic when crowded, and served a limited menu of food and drink physically downsized in direct proportion to its reduced prices. The most interesting dishes, beer, wine, and cocktails are banished or sell for full price during this three and a half hour dearth while the customer is subjected to the indecency of, for example, toy beer mugs containing precisely $2 worth of suds even though the price has recently escalated to three dollars.
Thus our (un)happy hour experience at Tasty n Alder kept us away for the better part of a year until we wandered by at 5:30 PM one day and decided to give the dinner service a shot. We quickly (re) learned that culinary first impressions can be dicey. It is a definitely a lesson worth learning every week or so.
With respect to the experience, Team Mago could swear they were in a different restaurant. It was kind of like a Bosch triptych where the chef’s counter is sparsely commodious, the table seating bustling but pleasant, and the bar is a tightly packed hell. As if to compensate for their mingy hour fare, portion sizes at dinner are quite large, yielding a better VFM per ducat deleted than that execrable bar experience. In addition, if you sit at the chef’s counter–often free on the shoulders of brunch and dinner service after the tables have filled up with reservation diners–you get a much more interesting view than you do in the bar.
Mago tip: Try to sit on the far right of the chef’s counter for the best view of the entire line. Be sure to engage the line cooks and the sous chef in conversation. Team Mago has found these culinary interlocutors both enthusiastically knowledgeable and generally in a better mood than the crew behind the bar.
Our (continuing) bill of fare follows:
Bulgogi short ribs with house kimchi: The ribs were flavorful, tender, and abundant—better, in fact, than most of the Korean strip mall eateries in Beaverton. This was also true of the bespoke kimchi.
Goat cheese dumplings arrabiata: Addephagia’s love pillows by any other name. An ethereal and tangy take on gnocchi alla Romana paired with an earthy, rustic, and spicy tomato sauce.
Grilled octopus: The menu appends the noun “Spain” to this dish, but it is unclear whether the octopus itself hails from there or the prep owes to Spanish culinary tradition. In any event, the preparation was more reminiscent of Pantescan cuisine, given the fulsome use of capers. The octopus was correctly par cooked and then expertly grilled, producing char crunch on the outside and melting tenderness inside. The first twist, however, was the employment of smoked paprika (maybe this is the Spanish bit?) in the boiling liquid and the use of wood chips underneath the grill—a combination that adds a wonderful pungent smokiness to the gastropod flesh. The second twist involves sautéed (Castelvetrano?) olives, capers, and peppers that enliven the dish while embellishing its flavor profile. Best of all, it passed the spouse test—essential for all multi-tentacled food.
Baja tacos made with halibut, apple avocado sauce, and escabeche: I am of the opinion that fish tacos must contain fried fish or they become soggy. Since nothing fries up better than halibut, these were exemplary. And the portion size is enough to fuel two justifiably angry protesters right before a Trump rally. Yes, Bobby, we ordered fish tacos.
Peking duck a la plancha: This one was kind of a fusion flop. The “Chinese” accompaniments were on point. The sauce was colorful and flavorful, boasting bold asian notes and a very nice jolt of heat. A fresh, thinly sliced cucumber and radish salad added crunch and acidity to the mix. However, the duck was undercooked. Kind of my bad. Our attentive and knowledgeable server waxed rhapsodic about this dish, adding almost as an afterthought that the duck breast was served medium rare with crispy skin, so I did not press as I normally would concerning the precise definition of medium rare. The breast meat was certainly medium rare, actually it walked right up to the line of rare, but the problem was the skin. It was slightly rubbery, a fact that obviated the very decent flavor achieved with a five-spice rub. Just a little bit longer on the grill, or a little more attention to the depth and extent of the skin scoring from the not-all-that-busy line, or more enlightened scrutiny at the pass by the sous would have saved the dish. A real quackin’ shame.
Team Mago has yet to try Tasty n Alder’s extensive brunch menu, but rest assured that we will and let you know what we think. For now, our advice is to avoid the (un)happy hour, sit at the chef’s counter, and enjoy the show.