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Rostra rating: 4.5
The most recent prize that Team Mago won for playing pester the chef is Aaron Barnett’s recommendation for “a really great meal” at Taylor Railworks. For once, the ubiquitous Portland industrial restaurant trope is realized in an industrial setting underpinned by a one hundred and eight year old industrial structure in a genuine east Portland industrial setting. Note, however, the retro throw backs that class the place up considerably such as the antique hostess station duo of lectern and furniture scale. And even though you have to leave the restaurant to find the rest rooms, two surgeons could scrub in that sink, dude.
Three basic choices confront the would be partaker of “Borderless American Cuisine”: 1) semi-communal sit down tables, 2) the marble topped bar, and 3) the chef’s counter which flanks the line. You can guess where MagoGuide sat.
We had a great time watching and chatting with Chef Erik Van Kley and his team. The kitchen was trying out different rotations and otherwise performing OJT with some new staff on a Thursday evening with Chef Van Kley spending the bulk of his time on the flame top, which was great because the pass is about as far from the counter seats as it can get and the view is obstructed, so it is much easier to play pepper the chef with questions while he is playing the piano. With his culinary didactic talents on full display, Chef Van Kley vetted and tweaked our order. He pretty much forbade us drinking red wine with his fried chicken and clams due to the high amount of lemon juice in the recipe. See why I sit at the chef’s counter, and why is it so freakin’ hard to reserve seats at a chef’s counter in Rip City anyway?
Van Kley’s food may be borderless, but it sure tastes likes Asia in general and Thailand in particular. The three takes on Thai were:
Warm squid & cucumber salad with citrus, shiso, chilies, and mint (eat your heart out Andy Ricker).
Noodles alla Johnny with spicy crab, prawn, and tomato. Maybe this also had some Singapore flavors going on too, anyway the grilled prawn head was wicked good (I didn’t get any of the rest of the sucker, sorry).
Fried chicken ‘n clams. Yep, that’s right. Boneless dark meat fryolatored yardbird served with steamed PNW clams on a bed of Napa cabbage in a spicy Thai broth. I gotta tell ya’ I like borderless fried chicken, regardless of the velocity induced in my grandmother’s final resting place that such praise will doubtless cause.
The chef pretty much demanded that we have the wagyu tartare with spicy dressing, crispy onions, peanuts, and frozen foie gras. And sweet Patti Ann ate it and liked it, that’s how freakin’ good it was. The “tapioca chicerones” (stole that one right off our excellent waitress) were a playful replacement for toasted brioche while the mint, black sesame seeds, and peanuts should not have worked, but man did they.
The chef also thought that we should eschew the roasted morel & grilled maitake mushrooms with soft polenta, parmesan, sunny side up egg, and fresh herbs in favor of goat cheese gnocchi with sesame, gochujang, and fermented radish. So we ordered both (you can do that, it’s in the official pester the chef rules, dude). Chef Van Kley was trying to referee between his comfort and creative culinary instincts, and MagoGuide is here to say that you just can’t do that. The shrooms and that ethereal polenta merged into an Adephasian foodgasm with the perfectly cooked egg yolk, although I would ague for the wretched excess of employing a duck egg in this dish.
But those fermented radishes with the gnocchi made them the most amazing non-Italian pasta I have ever eaten. Our Sicilian colleague would surely condemn this approach as a “culinary provocation”, but those were goddamn good gnocchi Maynard.
The chocolate tart could have been driven over from Van Key’s former digs at Little Bird, and I mean that in a very, very good way. Basically a chocolate Oreo-like crust wrapped around a major generous dollop of salty caramel, it bespoke real talent at the pastry station.
The cherry-smoked honey butter almost, but not quite, made up for fact that the buttermilk rolls came out of a plastic bag. The popcorn served up with our cocktails flat out sucked but if anything had to, it was the popcorn.
I thought I was going to be a little pissy about the lack of any (as in zero) taps, but I drank a killer aged cocktail called Gotham Limited (rye whiskey, perfect vermouth, and boker’s bitters) and somehow I forgot about the total unPortlandness of a restaurant without draft beer.The Brookland (bourbon, dry vermouth, smoky orange bitters, and cherry) ain’t shabby either. We also drank a very nice Spanish white, Casar Godello 2015 (D.O. Bierzo), that was perfect with Van Key’s food, The wine’s medium acidity was balanced by sweet citrus notes and a brassy refreshing sourness that segwayed into a medium finish with hints of tropical fruit.
I gave this gem of a restaurant a 4.5 rostra rating… that’s how good it was. Thanks again, Chef Barnett, for pointing us to this place.