[Note: This restaurant has closed]
Filberts is a niche restaurant. It’s a nice little neighborhood spot easily reached by those from other neighborhoods, as it sits right at the tip of the I-405 exit in NW Portland. Located in an old turn of the century house, a large deck wraps around the side, giving it a homey feel. It’s in an odd part of Portland that makes people forget it is even there. I think this is the 3rd or 4th try for a restaurant in that space, the last being Waterzooies, a rather odd Belgian restaurant. The décor is adult and cozy, the antithesis of Portland’s ubiquitous concrete and steel. Bright copper ceiling tiles cast a flattering and warm glow over diners, and the tables and chairs are comfortable. Bright modern paintings create spots of interest. It’s intimate without being too dark or oppressive; it making it a good date spot. The designers have done an excellent job.
Service is warm, knowledgeable, but not too chatty or overly in-your-face, which is the sign of a good professional operation; I’d say it is some of the best I’ve had in Portland. When quizzed about the wine menu, it was obvious the server was very well informed, knew when and when not to decant a bottle, and was able to steer us in the direction of a wine that would match both of our entrees. I was impressed with the service on every one of my visits. Speaking of the wine list, I was surprised how large it was for such an intimate restaurant. They have close to 100 bottles, including a nice selection of splits. While it leans pretty heavily on the local side, there are also a good amount of French varieties.
Filberts has quite a few special multi-course dinners that allow you to try a variety of dishes (and wines) without breaking the bank. I attended one such dinner last fall that consisted of four courses for $45, matched with wine for $55; quite a good deal. Some items discussed below don’t list a price, because they are part of one of these dinners. It’s worth checking their newsletters to find out about these meals.
So I really like the space, and the service is terrific. Sadly, however, the food is a mixed bag. From my experience, the entrees usually outweigh the appetizers.
To begin, the bread with “Filbert butter” is a bit problematic. Even our server seemed unsure about it, stating (without prompting), that we could get some “regular butter” if we preferred. I didn’t like it, though it set the “Filberts” tone, but my companions thought it was great. If it were up to me, I’d put a bit of both regular and filbert butter on each table.
A recent starter of cheve panna cotta with beets was an example of all the things that can go wrong with this dish. The panna cotta was an oozing mass of tasteless cream, no tang of goat cheese or seasoning present, while the beets were so vinegary they made the sides of my cheeks pucker like eating one of those super sour candies. Good intentions, bad execution, and badly balanced. It was difficult to eat ($8).
On the other hand, one visit started with crostini with pear and blue cheese butter. There was enough butter on it to keep the entire table satisfied for the evening. A bit over the top, but otherwise good, the flavors worked well together, the blue cheese and pear harmonizing nicely.
The celery root bisque with apples and Dungeness crab would have been just fine except for one gaff. A mound of crab, delicately piled in the center, was almost frozen. The seasoning was also a bit off, though a sprinkling of pepper helped.
A Lyonnaise salad of frisee and duck lardon with poached egg was problematic. The duck was bland – a little salt maybe? The frisee thick, though not as flavorful as one might expect from a local farm, and the egg was rather strangely poached; overcooked on the outside and runny on the inside. The combination made for a rather average restaurant salad.
Finally, a field greens salad might have been quite good. It was served with crunchy toasted filberts and even good Rogue Creamery’s Smokey Blue Cheese, but the lettuce was so overdressed one could barely discern the flavors. On a second visit it was much better, but still, these things just shouldn’t be happening in such a nice restaurant ($6.50)
As I said, my experience with the entrees was much better. An order of duck breast and wild mushroom risotto was more promising. Thinly sliced cuts of the meat were fanned over a nice portion of risotto bursting with chanterelles and other mushrooms. Sadly however, despite requesting medium rare, the duck was not evenly grilled; almost raw in spots. When I had this dish another night, it was overcooked. A bit more attention needs to be paid to the grill. The underlying risotto was excellent. A bit al dente, it was leagues above restaurants usually mushy versions, and had a nice earthy taste of five wild mushrooms ($27).
The pan-roasted pork chops are pretty darn good. Thick cut and classically prepared, most recently with roasted chestnut, pancetta and prune stuffing, they were juicy and full of flavor. Plated with lovely caramelized Brussels sprouts, the flavor combinations all worked to make an excellent, satisfying dish ($21).
Another night I tried grilled lamb chops au poivre (with pepper). Again, the flavors were great. I liked the peppery flavor balanced against the gaminess of the lamb, which was perfectly cooked. Combined with salty mashed potatoes and a flavorful Swiss chard, this was an excellent dish ($27).
I’ve had several desserts, all average restaurant fare. Cinnamon, apple and raisin bread pudding was probably the best of the lot. Moist yet not soggy, the bread still had a bit of texture. A decent caramel sauce finished it off ($7). The flourless chocolate cake with Maraschino cherry crème anglaise was more pedestrian, the chocolate flavor being a bit lacking.
I walked into Filberts wanting to love the place. While I thought the food was just average, the atmosphere and service made me want to go back. All the foundations are there for an excellent restaurant, they just need to pay more attention in the kitchen to bring it up to the memorable level.
- Address: 1937 NS 23rd Place, Portland, OR 97210
- Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 5pm to close