Note that Gilt Club changed chef and menu in June 2006. New review will be posted this summer
I face a bit of a quandary when a new restaurant comes to town. How long do I wait to make a review? On one hand, readers really want to know what the new places are like before they spend their hard-earned money. Since everything is new, they want to see what the menu looks like. On the other hand, how fair is it to review a restaurant that has just opened?
As one who has been involved with restaurant openings in the past, I am aware of the dilemma of training staff and perfecting the dishes, versus opening the doors and stemming the hemorrhage of cash. It is a difficult decision to make, but I strongly believe in a ‘soft opening’, letting the staff get their feet wet before you shout your presence to the world.
Taking this into account, I am faced with two new restaurants: Gilt Clubdowntown on Broadway, and Roux on NE Killingsworth. Gilt club opened with little publicity, just a small blurb in Portland Magazine. Roux opened with the finesse of a freight train calling everyone in town to supper. After some thought, I’ve decided to do an ‘initial impression’ of Gilt club and list the menu. On the other hand, since Roux is obviously craving publicity, I’ll jump in with both feet and give a full review. First off is Gilt Club. Here’s a good portion of the menu:
- Fresh pear salad with prosciutto, candied pecans, blue cheese, endive, frizee arugula, and sherry shallot vinaigrette $9.00
- Crispy bisteeya and pork shoulder confit with apple and apricot chutney $8.00
- Caesar salad, made to order with creamy dressing, pandano cheese, and long croutons $8.00
- Charred rare beef sirloin tartar with a seared scallop, served with avocado, preserved lemon $10.00
- Grilled porcini-rubbed Cascade Natural flatiron steak, sliced thin, with pomme frites, red wine jus and salsa verde $19.00
- Fillet of black cod over saffron scented chorizo potato stew with smoky paprika $19.00
- Boneless chicken leg under a bed of spinach, new potatoes, and agua dulche sauce $18.00
- Spaghetti with North African spiced lamb sausage, roasted tomato sauce, arugula, and pecorino cheese $17.00
- Grilled pork tenderloin with bulgur, butternut squash, pilaf, scallions, walnuts, and apple apricot compote $20.00
- Grilled wild salmon on a dollop of mashed potatoes, braised lentils, root vegetables, Carlton Farms apple wood smoked bacon $22.00
- Fresh fettuccini with caramelized butternut squash, sage, walnuts, lemon butter, grana and padano cheeses $16.00
- Cascade Natural Angus burger, pickled onions, gruyère cheese, monchego red pepper catsup and spicy aoli with pomme frites $12.00
(I’ve read they have a good risotto, but it was not on the menu the times I went)
Five desserts are available, all $7.00:
- Bittersweet chocolate cake with caramelized bananas, chocolate hazelnut pralines, and whipped cream
- Vanilla-scented yoghurt crème berry compote with an almond tuille
- Cypress Hill fromage blanc with roasted figs and wildflower honey
- Pumpkin crème brûlée with spiced pecans and whipped cream
- Caramel apple brioche bread pudding
There are 12 wines by the glass ranging from $7-14.00. Nothing stood out by the glass or bottle; a pretty average selection.
Eight beers are available, running the gamut from Lindemans to Deschutes Mirror Pond, Black Butte Porter, Stella Artois, and Amstel light. The cocktail list is rather uninspired compared to what others are offering in this town. They need to do some work on it.
First of all, Gilt Club is beautiful in an old-school, clubby kind of way. The bar space 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 bar area. When the TV is off, you just see the mirror. Kind of neat, it allows people at the bar to watch TV without being intrusive in the dining room. 60’s light fixtures hang above the bar, with two very dramatic fixtures above the dining room. Everything – floor, ceiling, booths, tablecloths, curtains – is dark red. Lots of big, plush draperies warm the space. The booths are very tall-backed and comfortable. Incongruous paper-bag colored paper is put over the red linen tablecloths. In spite of a plethora of candles on the tables, the lighting is terrible – one has to pass a candle around to see the menus. A friend of mine was given a blue flashlight, being told it was “a common request”. Give me a break and fix the damn lighting. Music was loud enough to be intrusive on an otherwise slow night. The whole place has a very comfortable feel. I have a feeling it will be full of young, trendy, Pearlites when word gets out about the ‘cool interior’. I suppose this all sounds good, but how about the food?
Bay Area chef Paul Irving is running the kitchen. I was told he was formerly the executive chef at the Coconut Grove supper club in San Francisco, and the Petaluma River House in Sonoma County.
The Caesar salad was decent. You can pick whether you want chopped anchovies or not. The dressing is rather creamy, perhaps mayonnaise based. Two huge thin, crisp garlicky croutons are served alongside. No taste of lemon at all. A little bit too salty.
A butternut squash soup special with maple crème fraîche came steaming to the table. It was a bit heavy, rather thick bodied. While it was fine, I would like it to be a bit thinner, and have had better elsewhere. Still, it was fine.
The salmon was too soft; one would even call it mushy. This can be caused by cooking at the wrong temperature, using farmed salmon (though their menu claims wild), or even being frozen. The most likely reason though, is late-season salmon tends to be a bit mushy. Unfortunately, it was so dark, I couldn’t really tell what was the cause of the problem. Either way, it was an unacceptable dish. As my companion said, “I want some kind of texture!”
The dish of pork tenderloin was cooked correctly, though still a bit dry – surprising since it was fairly rare. The bulgar on which it rested suffered from the “too many ingredients” syndrome, though I did enjoy the apple apricot compote. Overall though, nothing special and I wouldn’t have it again.
The fettuccini with butternut squash was the best thing I’ve had at Gilt Club. Fairly simple, good ingredients, not too salty. A decent dish, though I don’t think I would drive across town for it.
Bittersweet chocolate cake with caramelized bananas, chocolate hazelnut pralines and whipped cream was a disaster. The pralines provided unexpected, unwelcome crunch, and didn’t go with the chocolate. None of us cared for this dessert. Same goes for the caramel apple bread pudding. It was better than the cake, but still nothing to write home about. Standard restaurant fare.
Overall impressions: Service was excellent. I started to wonder if the table was bugged, because every time I thought of something to complain about, the waiter would immediately show up to rectify my issue. This restaurant has several things going for it. 1. It serves the whole menu until 2:00am. Right now I can’t think of any decent late night place downtown. After a few drinks, the food here would probably taste much better. 2. The space is nice. Will this be enough to keep it in business? Time will tell. I’ll keep it on my list and go back when it would be fair to give it a full review. Maybe by that time I will have a chance to taste the hamburger with the ‘naughty slice of gruyere’ the Willamette Week review talked about, but then maybe the reviewer spent too much time looking out the window at the porn store across the street and got confused. No score, too early to say.
503-222-4458. 306 NW Broadway Portland. Google Map Reservations recommended late night and towards weekends. Website Monday-Saturday 5 p.m.-2 a.m.
Tags: $$$, Bars/Taverns, Downtown, Northwest Cusine, NW Portland, Open Late, Open Monday, Review
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- Apollo Says:
Once again, I find myself agreeing with you. I have only been once, and despite the great service and the cool atmopsphere, the food was mediocre at best. The lighting was way too low, and I could barely read the menu and the wine list. I really want to like the place, it has such a neat atmosphere, but it is only a block (maybe two) further from my condo than Park Kitchen, and PK is very very hard to beat.
October 18th, 2005 at 11:34 pm
- averilpdx Says:
I had a good experience at Gilt Club- I agree that the food is not amazing, but given the atmosphere and AMAZING service, I would go back and give it another whirl. It may end up being a date night “drinks and apps.” place, but there was something about the room and the service (I agree with your feeling that the table was bugged) that left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling (I’m sure the cocktail added to that as well!) The cocktail(as you said) made the food seem better- I don’t drink very much…I had the cod (sans chorizo) and the fish itself was excellent- tender, seared just right. The stew was a little heavy on the smoked paprika, but quite enjoyable. Pomme frites and potato leek soup were fine- nothing spectacular, but fine. My husband had the salmon which was also tender and flavorful- perhaps a little too soft. I suppose I was seduced by the place (the waiter asked my if my drink was gingery enough- I said “no- and he proceeded to go the the bar and have the bartender squeeze some fresh ginger juice and added it to my drink.) I realize that none of this makes up for crappy food, but I think the jury is still out on this place
October 19th, 2005 at 9:12 am
- dr Says:
I too have only been once, and had very similar reactions.
Def. the biggest complaint has to be the atrocious lighting.
I had the chicken and I thought it was pretty tasty, although I’m sure someone with finer sensibilites might have found it a bit mushy (or mish-mashy).
I would def. go back (although not SPRINTING back), and I appreciate your sentiment to hold off on grading/scoring and give it another try in the near future.
October 19th, 2005 at 9:53 am
- Food Dude Says:
Just so it is clear: it was the salmon I thought was mushy. Also, I really liked the service too, they got major props for that. However, One of the times there was only one other table, another time there was only two other tables. In that situation, you’d better get good service.
In response to emails about my comment at the end of this review: well, I’m sorry, but the Willamette Week review was a disaster, and I can’t help but poke fun at it. “Main courses include an Angus hamburger ($12) with homemade mango-pepper-infused ketchup and a naughty slice of Gruyère.” “This intercourse among tart, mild, sharp and sweet does not plateau…” I can’t imagine this writer (a guy) writing it, or that going there was a “gilty pleasure” for him. I have a feeling someone edited that beyond his original intent and put a few words in his mouth. I write some silly things, but this new cutesy writing that WW is putting out is turning it into trash. Besides, there is a porn store directly across the street!
Stepping down off of soap box.
October 19th, 2005 at 11:39 am
- Court Says:
I raved quite a bit about the salmon and thought it was excellent. Maybe I just got lucky? But like averilpdx echoed – the strong drink could have swayed my opinion more than I thought. Fifths on the service mentions…and horrid lighting. Every review I’ve read mentions that – you think they would have done something differently by now.
October 19th, 2005 at 2:20 pm
- Ramekin Says:
Went and checked it out tonight after a show. First let me say kudos to you for pointing out the pomposity of the WW review. An interesting side note is that Richard Speers’ only other restaurant review I found (mama mia’s) also makes use of the word “eponymous” in it. Makes me think that rather than having his review edited, sadly the opposite happened. I have to admit that I had to look the word up and I’m not sure that its usage is proper in either instance. But that’s a whole different thread.
As for the Gilt, I too found the atmosphere to be stupendous. And the service is top notch. Our waiter seemed to know everything there was to know about every item we ordered and then some. On one occasion I reached for my rather too small almost depleted water glass and he was standing beside me with pitcher in hand! As for the food? Well I couldn’t have been more pleased. And it definitely wasn’t the alcohol talking. We started with the Goat cheese fruit compote appetizer and Pear salad. Both were well above average. For main courses I had the Salmon and found it to be cooked to perfection and the lentils that accompanied it were full of flavor and much more interesting than the ubiquitous potatoes or grilled vegetables. My partner had the Pork and I will be back for that. To finish we had the Chocolate cake (had to try it) and the infused Pumpkin Pie martini. The cake was probably my only let down. It wasn’t horrible it just wasn’t as good as the drink. Was this the best meal I have ever had? No. But when you combine the atmosphere, service and food together it certainly ranks up there. I really don’t see this place promoting itself as a trend setting new beacon of light or “icon” if you will. In fact I don’t see this place promoting itself at all! Maybe because of that my expectations aren’t as high but they certainly met and exceeded them. For that I will seriously give them a nod of approval.
BTW, the lights weren’t that dark, dim yes, but not flashlight worthy. Maybe enough people said something and they turned them up or perhaps all the staring I do at the ‘puter during the night is giving me infra red vision.
October 24th, 2005 at 2:51 am
- JS Says:
Sorry but I disagree with you on this place, Ive probably gone 5 or 6 times now since it opened. Every time I go Im more than happy. You say its too early for a review but you seem to have passed your judgment that it is “decidedly mediocre”. I think your doing them a disservice. Just because the cocktail list isnt 6 pages long doesnt make it “uninspired”, the 10 or 15 drinks that they do have are some of the best in town. Admittedly I dont know a whole lot about wine but the selection is varied and the prices are reasonable and fellow guests have commented on how there are some very good finds on the list. And the food is fantastic. Everything I have eaten is superb. Sure its not haught cuisine and the presentations arent towering stacks of architecture but the dishes are appetizing, flavorful, perfectly seasoned and well thought out. Yes the service is incredible and yes they seem to be trying very hard to do something good in a bad neighborhood and no the lights arent too dark.
October 27th, 2005 at 5:51 am
- Chambolle Says:
Last night I went there for about the fourth time (one of the few places that works with my schedule) and had another really solid experience. Timing, execution & service were all very well done. Their decor for the holidays was kind of cute, too, though I usually don’t care about that kind of thing.
I think they are on their way to making an excellent contribution to the local food scene.
December 14th, 2005 at 8:11 pm
- Food Dude Says:
Chambolle – I’ll be back to Gilt Club for a full review the first quarter of 2006.
December 15th, 2005 at 12:07 am