Review: The Gilt Club

Note: 1.3.14. This restaurant has closed.

The Gilt Club

Whenever I sit down to write a review, I ask myself, “What is the restaurant’s goal?” Is it bar food, cocktails, bargain prices, family friendly, eclectic dining, fine dining, or what? Usually this is an easy thing to nail down, but in the case of the Gilt Club, the ambition is somewhat muddled. The cocktails are excellent. As a late night dining option, I can’t think of a better choice in town – where else can you get a full menu of such ambitious entrées at 1:00 in the morning? At the same time, the Gilt Club is open for regular dinner, so I have to take that into account.

Since they are trying to be so many different things, I’ll take them one at a time, beginning with the restaurant itself.

Dining Room

The Gilt Club is downtown at the intersection of NW Broadway and Everett St. Tables are set up on the broad sidewalk, providing a pleasant place for a drink on a warm night. The outside however, gives no clue of what is to come. The restaurant is beautiful in an old-school, clubby kind of way, the space striking – a dramatic, intimate lounge for cocktails. Walking in makes you feel like you’ve joined a private club. The bar to the left of the entry is attached to the dining room, so everyone gets to watch the action in both areas. A large flat screen TV behind a mirror floats over the bartender. When it’s off, you just see the mirror – very cool, it allows people at the bar to watch TV without it really intruding into the restaurant. Circa 60’s light fixtures hang above the bar, with two very dramatic lamps above the dining room. Everything – ceiling, booths, tablecloths, and curtains, is dark red, set off by the warmth of the old wood floor. Lots of big, plush draperies warm the space. The booths are very tall-backed and comfortable. Incongruous brown paper is run over the red linen tablecloths, which seems a bit tacky, but not that noticeable. Candles on the tables provide a bit of light, and my complaint in an earlier review of poor lighting has mostly been fixed; flashlights are no longer necessary. The space has a very comfortable feel, and as the evening passes, the restaurant fills with young, trendy Pearlites. As a matter of fact, it rarely gets crowded before 10pm or so, but later on it gets packed. The owners got a lot of bang for their buck, and I think it is one of the more comfortable spaces in Portland to while away an evening; the quintessential date spot.

Since Gilt Club first opened, a good list of house drinks has been developed. Cocktails are a major focus here, and while I’ve thrown quite a few requests at them, the bartenders have handled each with aplomb. I’ve yet to be disappointed. Everything from old-fashioned drinks to modern twists on the martini has been well executed. Shaker drinks are poured at the table, which bothers me a bit, as those types of concoctions are meant to be poured off immediately. The purpose of the shaking is to mix and chill the ingredients; you don’t want to add water by melting the ice. Still, that is a minor nit, and customers seem to enjoy the tableside service. They have a decent quantity of wines by the glass, as well as an average bottle selection, and a typical Portland beer list.

Service is a mixed bag. I’ve gone in on busy nights and had exceptional service, followed by very slow nights when the same staff seemed to be asleep and uncaring. One thing has always been consistent: the kitchen turns out dishes efficiently, and they arrive at the correct temperature.

Bar Area

I’ve always thought, if you are going to run your own business, you need to come in and experience everything just as if you were the average customer. The way things are presented when you sit down, I wonder if they have done this at the Gilt Club. The two tops are of average size – these days that means there isn’t a lot of room to move around. As you sit, each person is presented with a large mounted menu. A tall cocktail list is stood on its end, followed by the large wine list. I always sit there feeling claustrophobic for a bit, barely able to see the person I’m dining with, and every party of two I’ve watched being seated has immediately laid the menus flat. It’s… dumb; I don’t want them in my face.

The original chef has been replaced by Alan Rutherford, a graduate of Western Culinary Institute, who most recently worked at the Calico Italian Restaurant in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Comparing the menus when Gilt Club first opened and the selections today, it doesn’t appear he’s had too much overall influence, though the menu does seem a bit more focused. The choices are mostly comfort food in nature, and tend to be strongly influenced by season. Here’s the October 2006 version:

First Courses:
Kumamoto oysters with a spicy cucumber mignonette $14
Fresh Mediterranean mussels with kabocha squash and Thai green curry $11
Baked goat cheese with seasonal fruit compote and crostini $7
Charred rare sirloin of beef “tartare” and a seared scallop served with preserved lemon guacamole and grilled toast $10
Moroccan spice grilled Tombo tuna with a cucumber-yogurt sauce and a curried couscous salad $11
Dungeness crab salad with avocado and micro greens with a citrus dressing $10
Arugula salad with apples, dates and manchego in a sherry vinaigrette $8
Caesar salad with creamy lemon garlic dressing and baguette croutons $8
Roasted beet salad with walnuts, endive and Oregon bleu cheese tossed with a pear vinaigrette $8
Pommes frites with seasoned salt and mango-red pepper ketchup $4
Soup du jour $4 / $7

Main Plates:
Porcini rubbed natural Angus flat iron steak with pommes frites and red wine demi $20
Sage grilled duck breast with an apple cider reduction served with chestnut spaetzle, butternut squash and walnuts $18
Seared sea scallops with aged balsamic vinegar served with chanterelle, leek and mascarpone risotto $22
Braised natural Angus beef short-ribs with celery root puree and caramelized root vegetables $21
Market fresh fish served with cipolline and Yukon Gold potato ravioli, roasted beets and a meyer lemon oil. (Market price)
Grilled venison chops with bing cherry sauce, Brussels sprouts and an apple and sweet potato puree $21
Yukon Gold potato gnocchi with green beans, crispy pancetta, cardoncello mushrooms and roasted shallots in a light tarragon crème – vegetarian upon request $16
Cascade natural Angus burger, caramelized onions, applewood smoked bacon, fontina cheese, roasted garlic aioli and whole grain mustard with pommes frites $12

Overall, the quality of the food has improved significantly since they first opened, though most things still have a way to go to lift them above Portland’s average. Because of their focus on the late night crowd, they have a large selection of first courses that run the gamut of tastes. Most are better than I expected.

The Caesar salad is romaine hearts, dressed with a balanced, though not terribly exciting, lemon garlic dressing. I can understand them toning down the garlic, given its reputation as a date place. You are given a choice as to whether you want anchovies or not; if you do, they come in little mounds scattered throughout. The large thin croutons on top are rather pedestrian, but can be considerably punched up if you smear them with some of your anchovy. Overall, this is a fairly average version ($8.00). An arugula salad with apples, dates and manchego in sherry vinaigrette was excellent, the dates providing great little bursts of flavor. No complaints here ($8.00). Another offering is a roasted beet salad. The beets are thinly sliced with good sweet flavor, the walnuts, endive, and Oregon bleu piled on top. The pear vinaigrette is a bit above the mainstream, making this a good choice. ($8.00)

If you like fries, the pommes frites were quite good, thin shoestring fries, nice and crispy, drenched in salt; quite addictive – I could eat the entire bowl myself. An accompanying mango-red pepper ketchup was overly sweet, and felt gimmicky. It really wasn’t needed, as the fries stood very well on their own. More recently, there was a different dipping sauce with a bit of spice to it, but I didn’t like it much either. Still, get the fries. They are great all by themselves ($4.00).

The Porcini flat iron steak was nothing to write home about, but wasn’t bad either. It was just… fine, well executed but no wow factor. I’d certainly have it again, but unlike Le Pigeon’s version, for example, it’s not something I’d rush to tell friends about ($20.00). Another meat dish, the seasonal venison chops with bing cherry sauce was better. The two chops were cooked exactly as they should be, and arrived piping hot. As I’ve said about venison other places, the farm-raised meat didn’t have a whole lot of flavor (I swear if you put a blindfold on the average Joe and served it to him, he’d think it was steak), but the other ingredients made the plate. I’m not a huge fan of Brussels spouts, but wow, I could eat a bowl of these. They were matched with a good apple and sweet potato purée, and the dish was finished with a Bing cherry sauce, which was an average attempt. Overall, all the components got along just fine without anyone having to raise their voice ($21.00). For those that are more focused on cocktails, a Gilt Club burger is available. The ingredient list is Cascade natural beef, caramelized onions, applewood smoked bacon, fontina cheese, roasted garlic aioli and whole grain mustards. The burger is easily the best late night choice in Portland; moist and flavorful, when matched with the fries and a few cocktails, you’ll feel quite good about life ($12.00).

A few seafood dishes are always available. Recently, three plump scallops, finished with a bit of balsamic, came on a good-sized bed of chanterelle, leek and mascarpone risotto. The scallops were seared just the way they should be, and the risotto was one of the better restaurant versions I’ve had in a long time – perfectly al dente, moist, and loaded with fall flavor ($22.00). The fish dishes can be hit or miss depending on the day. A pan-seared Alaskan halibut with tarragon-French bean salad and hazelnut brown butter, constructed thusly didn’t work at all. Build a raft of cold, al dente green beans. Plop a piece of dry overcooked halibut over the top. Add a dense sprinkling of chopped hazelnuts. End result? The beans fought with the halibut, the nuts fought with the halibut, and the nuts and fish were so dry they kicked the beans’ ass. As far as the tarragon goes, I couldn’t find much in evidence. The whole thing was a disappointment in design and conception ($23.00).

Desserts are hit and miss ($7.00). I tried a pear and bittersweet chocolate tart with pear crème which was average, a better choice of warm gingerbread cake with candied hazelnuts and vanilla ice cream, and finally a caramel apple pastis with cinnamon ice cream, which I found surprisingly well made. The crust was just right, and not at all oily, and the apples had a good balance of spices. There are also a few other desserts, and a selection of sorbets.

To go back to my opening paragraph, depending on what you are looking for, there are different ways to judge the Gilt Club, so I’m going to break it down. As a bar/cocktails with friends/date place, I’d give it a very good score – 3 stars. It’s a warm comfortable space, and the cocktail prices are just right. For a late night food fix, I’d also give it a high score. I can’t think of a better choice at 1:00am. As a regular dinner restaurant, the results are much more mixed, however, if you choose carefully, you can get a good meal in a swank space.

By the way, the owners here seem like they really care. Not only did they ask me to come in, they sent me copies of the menu, and provided the photos used in this story. It makes the review look really nice. I’m surprised other restaurants don’t do the same thing – I’m always happy to include photos.

  • Phone: (503) 222.4458
  • Address: 306 NW Broadway, Portland, Or. 97209. Google Map
  • Hours: Monday-Saturday 5 pm -2 am,
  • Website: GiltClub.com

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. Food Dude says

    Lexuh, thanks for throwing in your opinion. I agree with your assessment of the pork, but never tried the gnocchi. As I was doing my research on the chef today, I thinking I should have, but after reading your comments, no regrets.

  2. lexuh says

    I ate here with a group recently, and while I agree with most of your points, I’d like to add a few of my own.

    We came in during a seasonal transition, apparently, and they hadn’t yet ironed out their fall cocktail menu. I threw caution to the wind and ordered the bartender’s choice, which during out to be a foul-tasting fruity, creamy, and spicy concoction involving cranberry and cardamom. It reminded me of one of those novelty shots where the lemon juice curdles the irish cream and you have to swallow it before it turns the consistency of bubble tea gone really bad. We stuck to Moscow Mules (very good, and served in the traditional copper cup!), wine, and the required after-dinner sambuca after that.

    One of my companions ordered the roasted beet salad, and while the flavors were good and fresh, she thought it wasn’t enough food. I know it’s a subjective thing, but she does dine out fairly frequently and doesn’t often complain about volume.

    I had the duck breast with chestnut spaetzle, squash, and walnuts and it was some of the best duck I’ve had in Portland. Perfectly cooked with just enough of the fat rendered away, it lacked some of the gaminess I prefer, but still had a nice, ducky flavor. The spaetzle mixture, though, felt like an afterthought. It was lukewarm and scattered haphazardly on the plate under the duck. The squash flavor, if there was any squash, was so downplayed it didn’t complement the duck as I’d hoped it would.

    The gnocchi, which I stole off a companion’s plate, was good, but average. The sauce lacked cohesiveness, but the little bits of potatoey goodness had great texture.

    I agree that the desserts were a mixed bag. We tried one of everything, except the gingerbread cake, unfortunately. The profiterole that came with the pot de crème looked like it came out of the Costco freezer section. The person who ordered it declared it “meh”.

    I have to give a big shout-out to our server, the epitome of FOH grace. I’d never met a few members of our party before, and the coming of the check brought the inevitable scrutiny and fractional divvying-up. It’s always my least favorite part of the meal, and this time it was so labored that I threw my wad of cash in the leather folder and wanted to crawl under the table. Our waiter displayed a saintly patience and politeness, offering to re-run the entire meal as separate checks, which has been a huge pain in the ass in every service industry environment I’ve worked in. Kudos to him for not stereotyping us as low-tipping suburban hausfraus and treating our party with more kindness than we probably deserved.

    Despite the wonderful service, I’ll probably only come back for happy hour with the girls. Possibly date night with my husband, but with so many other beautiful, romantic restos in Portland, why settle for one with tepid spaetzle?

  3. Vicki says

    I assume that was a typo where you placed it at “SW Everett and Broadway”….nowhere in Portland is Everett in SW, that I know of.

  4. Christopher says

    Fd,
    As a professional mixologist, you do want to have added water in just about all martinis. Take the classic martini. Shaken “till your hand hurts” is always a good motto. Once poured you’d find it to almost be a 50/50 vodka/water ratio, essentially reducing the proof of the vodka. What I have found after 15 years is that the trick is yes to pour immediately after the shake, but the shake can wait a few minutes after it’s “built”. You may not realize it but if I were to order a classic martini at Guilt, at a table, I would bet it would taste better and colder than just about any other bar. They also use the large shakers which is far better than the “boston” style shakers 90% of bars use. I can go on, but I’ll invite you any other curious foodies to my gastro-tavern concept in the Pearl, when it opens in a mid-February to chat more on such matters. Cheers.

  5. Food Dude says

    Mixologist? Geeze, I was proud to call myself a good bartender.

    I have to totally disagree with you on the water issue. Every good bartender I’ve ever known, and every good book I’ve ever read, has said get as much chill on every piece of equipment you have, and never let your mix linger in the shaker, as “there is nothing worse than a watery martni”. I agree. In my opinion, a clear drink should never be shaken – it’s just too delicate. The shaking dilutes things like bitters and vermouth. Of course, in a perfect world, the shaker should be silver, as it conducts heat better, but good luck finding that in a bar.

    A good drink is about perfect balance. Unless you design your recipes to have water, it shouldn’t be there; you just want the mixture cold.

    In addtion, the drink I was complaining about, wasn’t a martini.

  6. Suds Sister says

    I’m with the Dude on this one, Christopher. Clear drinks, like martinis, should be stirred. Though I think that most bartenders shake them for a dramatic effect, or because it’s a faster way to chill a drink.

    My big complaint (not with Gilt) is that a lot of places neglect to chill their glassware. Most of the iciness of the drink is seeped away into a room temp, or God forbid, hot from the dishwasher, glass. How hard is it to put a scoop of ice into the glass at the same time that you’re putting a scoop into your shaker?

  7. Food Dude says

    Sister, I agree. I am constantly seeing glassware pulled from dishwasher to the line without any chance for it to cool off. Last night, at a “very high end” Portland restaurant, I was served wine in glasses that were so hot, everyone at the table noticed. Ugh.

  8. sidemeat says

    This is tied to the issue of hot food on cold plates and cold food on hot(fresh from the dishwasher) plates. In the never-ending effort to keep costs down restaurants will put off buying supplies until past it becoming an issue.

    This becomes more of a problem on weekends when everything and everybody is pushed to the limit. If, on a busy night, you’re wondering where your waiter has gone, sometimes it’s into the dish room, to hand wash some soup spoons. Other times, unfortunatly, it’s a cigarette break.

    I’m one of those waiters that keeps a small stash of hard to locate items. Is it fair? Perhaps not. But I look out for my guests. While others make phone calls or grab a smoke I’m locating the impossible to find.

  9. the mick says

    The original method of martini making called for the drink to be stirred. Shaking was an offense to true martini drinkers, but these days (with many thanks to James Bond) a shaken martini has become more the norm. Now just because stirring was the required method in the original recipe, does not mean that it necessarily tastes better. That decision will be left up to those with taste. “Who is right? Who is wrong?…..after a few, does it really matter?”

  10. Christopher says

    To Shake or Not to Shake, I have always loved this debate. A debate that can bring in so may personal views running head strong into the current schools of mixology (yes it is a science). I have always tried to keep an eye on the past as I serve the people of today. I have always gotten more compliments from my martinis being 1. shaken violoently and 2. the lack of any vermouth. I have never had anyone return a martini for being bruised. Note I define a martini as gin or vodka and perhaps some dry vermouth, chilled in martini glass. Everything else in my eyes is a cocktail served in a martini glass.

    To those of you who do prefer stirring I ask why and more importantly how is stirring “better”. Tradition yes but I don’t have people asking for a traditional martini. Before you answer let me remind you the Vodka by definiition in the US has to be atleast 40% alcohol. Shaking vodka (or stirring) with ice and bringing it to serving temperature will dilute it about half to around 20%.

    Sidemeat – have you seen any soup spoons?

  11. sidemeat says

    Christopher, I look out for my bartender as well, I got your soup spoons, but Jesus, Mary, Muhammad and Vishnu, I’d drown a bag of kittens
    for a teapot with a lid.

  12. Karmani says

    I was excited when Gilt opened – there aren’t many good options in Old Town. I had a very good dinner there once, but on two other visits I ordered a medium-cooked burger and both times it came to the table cool in the center and practically mooing.

    Still, it makes me happy to see the sidewalk tables full on a warm evening.

  13. pearlinsider says

    Hey Christopher — what’s this new “gastro-tavern” you’re opening in the Pearl? Inquiring minds want to know. Thanks!

    From your post:

    “….I’ll invite you any other curious foodies to my gastro-tavern concept in the Pearl, when it opens in a mid-February to chat more on such matters”

  14. teamsplashi says

    The Gilt Club is one of the few places we’ve found that will cook your burger a true rare. That in addition to the amazing cocktails and the very trippy TV behind the two way mirror makes for a very enjoyable evening. Highly recommended!!

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