NOTE: THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED
D.F. in the Pearl has revamped their menu and refocused. Are they making progress? I’ve had three more meals and have completely rewritten my previous review. Opened by the same people responsible for Taqueria Nueve, this new place at Northrop and NW 11th in the Pearl attempts to bring Mexico City cooking to downtown Portland. D.F. (pronounced day-ef-ay) is named for Distrito Federal, a federal district which encompasses Mexico City. The food is influenced heavily by the Veracruz region, which also means a bit of an Italian influence. Billy Schumaker and Stephen Speiser of Taqueria Nueve are the driving force. Everything is new concrete walls, terra cotta floors, all very Pearl District in feel. Tables are simple with no coverings, chairs are bright orange plastic. Comfortable booths are available alongside the windows with open tables taking the rest of the area. A large full bar fills the rest of the space with plenty of room to wait for a table if need be. Large colorful artwork adorns the walls adding depth to the space. In the beginning there were complaints about sun glare on some tables, but that has been mitigated with the addition of large sage curtains. There is a patio area for outdoor dining on nice days.
Does it succeed? After a few false starts they have reworked the menu more towards small plates. This is nice because it allows you to taste multiple items, but draws the cost per dinner up because everything is a la carte. Want beans with that? Rice? $2.00 please. This is even true on the few large plate selections. Caldos which are sort of a Mexican take on Pho used to be featured but have now disappeared from the menu.
26 tequilas are available ranging from your basic Don Julio Silver to Cuervo Reserva de la Familia for $16.00. Five margaritas are available (the more you drink the better they get) ranging from the basic at $6.25, to a Tradicional at $7.00, and the ‘El Optimo – Patron Anejo & Grand Marnier’ for $12.00. I have tried four of them and all were good and balanced, though I’d stick to the ‘tradicional’ as a good deal for the money. A collection of seven beers is available by bottle, three from on tap. Most of are fairly high quality with a Pabst thrown in for the Yankees.
A selection of three salsas are served to every table: green, which is your basic (and excellent) tomatillo sauce, a red which seems a lot like sweet and sour with Sriracha sauce with a bit of extra pepper, and a third of hot, pickled vegetables.
They have a strong emphasis on seafood. Traditional ceviches and seafood cocktails make up a large part of the menu. Under ceviches they list rojo – fresh fish and prawns mixed in a smoky tomato sauce with fresh citrus, blanco – Veracruz style with fresh fish, olives, chiles, & capers, and teritas from Guerrero with fish, black pepper, Mexican oregano and lime. I have tried all three of them. They all use good fresh fish. I didn’t care for the sweet flavor of the roja that tended to mask the flavor of the fish. The teritas is probably my favorite of the bunch. Quality ingredients have obviously been used in all these dishes, but some are at times overpowered by the sauces. I prefer a more subtle seasoning to let the ingredients speak for themselves. All are $8.00.
The guacamole has a nice texture but not a whole lot of flavor. The portions are much larger than they were before and they come with plenty of chips. It is available in two sizes at $4 & $8.00.
Tacos used to come two on a plate; now it is just one, but the price is cut by half. The taco al pastor with plenty of marinated pork and pineapple salsa and the taco pescado with chunks of smoked fresh fish, crema and salsa were each $3.00. Keep in mind there is nothing else on the plate. These were good tacos, though the pescado was a bit bland. The DF Empanadas are really good. The crust is a tiny bit thick, but the inside stuffing of chile, epazote, and rajas is terrific. They match well with the red sauce that seems to be added to so many dishes. The only drawback is that you only get three tiny empanadas for $7.00.
Tamal Oxaceno banana-wrapped tamale with chicken and mole $9.00 was a disappointment only because you couldn’t taste the mole. It is large with a great masa wrapping, but I couldn’t taste the mole at all. Chileajo – chile and garlic marinated vegetables over a corn tostada with slivered onion and cotija cheese $3.00 didn’t do a whole lot for me either.
Each day a mole poblano is available. I can’t help but compare it to the gone but not forgotten Café Azul. The mole, which is made in house, is pretty good but not quite up to the standard set by Azul. Tonight it was an airline cut of chicken breast and a side of warm tortillas; Very good, but not perfect. If I had never had Claire Archibald’s mole I am sure I would be happy, but it wasn’t quite up to their standards and lacked depth. Don’t get me wrong… I enjoyed the mole, it just wasn’t fantastic. New since they first opened, they now add a sprinkling of pepitas ($17.00).
Tosmole – a large bowl of oxtail and summer vegetables, roasted in a very light green broth of green chiles and Bohemia beer was pretty much like a stew. It was a hit though $17.00 is a bit pricy for the type of dish.
This restaurant is trying very hard and has gotten better and better over the past few months, but still has a ways to go to succeed. Food is good and very creative with top quality ingredients, but nothing I have tried is outstanding. For the price one pays, you’d expect to be more impressed but D.F. falls short of that goal. I have great hopes that it will continue to improve and will try it from time to time, but right now Nuestra Cocina gets my vote if you are in the mood for upscale Mexican.
In addition a brunch menu is available. I have yet to try it, but the menu looks absolutely authentic to Mexico City and intriguing with items like migas, chorizo y huevos, pozole blanco, menudo, etc.
Reservations are available for parties of six or more, but you can pretty much walk in and get a table at this time.