SADLY, THIS RESTAURANT CLOSED IN EARLY 2010
For the past six months, my friend Nancy has been trying to get me to go to Lovely Hula Hands. To be honest, I wasn’t particularly interested. I’d given it a try the first week after they moved north from their old location on Mississippi, and wasn’t terribly impressed. Additionally, many of the items on the menu didn’t really appeal to me. Fortunately, Nancy kept bringing it up, and one evening after having a few too many drinks down the street, I wandered in. I wasn’t quite prepared for the food that was to follow. Since that night, I’ve been back four times in a more sober state of mind, and have been just as appreciative.
Troy MacLarty was working at at Alice Water’s famed Chez Panisse in Berkeley, before being lured to Portland by the much maligned Michael Hebberoy. As things began to melt down in the Hebberoy empire, he left, reappearing later at Simpatica, and finally at Lovely Hula Hands which had just moved into a much larger space.
When I heard Hula Hands was relocating, I walked up and down Mississippi Avenue trying to figure out where it would be opening. The only possibility was a 1923 brick two story building which was impossibly dilapidated. Watching the slow pace of construction, I think this was a pretty good assessment – it took a long time and lots of money to bring it back to life, including removing the entire interior of the building, floors and all. But step inside the completed project, and that is forgotten. Owners Sara and Jane Minnick’s vision has resulted in a space that is warm and comfortable, yet retains the feel of the old building. Period woodwork, light fixtures, pale Florida Coral paint and 1930’s era flowered prints set the tone, making it a cozy, intimate space.
I usually order the rosemary focaccia with a rotating olive oil, so I have something to munch on while I study the menu. The bread is homemade; tender on the inside but with a slight crunchy exterior and just the right amount of salt and rosemary. It’s served warm in a pool of good olive oil, most recently Terra Madre. My only complaint is sometimes there is a bit too much oil, leaving the bread overly soggy; a minor quibble. The portion is easily enough for two ($4).
Lovely Hula Hands has a full bar, and the drinks are well executed. Many of them are enjoyable classics, like the sazerac, Tom Collins, or a darn good hot toddy, with fresh lemon, honey, and Makers Mark ($7). They also throw in some original ideas, like the Beauty Mark with Makers, fresh orange juice, and a few sour cherries for the mark, or Talulah’s bathwater which is quickly gaining popularity: pomegranate molasses, tequila, fresh lime and sugar ($7). In addition, the cocktail menu contains a good selection of hot drinks, like the cocao Inez made from Dagoba spicy hot chocolate and brandy, topped with whipped cream ($7).
Salads are inspired and perfectly executed; in my opinion, some of the best in the city. On my second visit I had the radicchio with pear butter vinaigrette, brie, and glistening candied pecans. It was like a brie butter fog had settled over the leaves. I wanted to lie down in it. This was an exceptional effort that shows just how much you can do with a salad ($7). I tried to get my partner to taste it, but she couldn’t hear me; instead transfixed by her smoked trout, avocado and blood orange salad. It was like music, a perfect harmony of ingredients, which featured a generous amount of each element on top of immaculate curly escarole and a stunning herbal vinaigrette. The smokiness of the trout shone through, while the creamy avocado and bright citrus notes of the orange tied everything together in a great fugue – a masterpiece ($8).
Dishes rotate on and off depending on the season, but they often seem to have some sort of carpaccio. A few weeks ago it was six thin slices of yellowtail, arranged in a fan across the plate, dotted with an unusual bright green harissa, a variation on the North African-inspired sauce that’s hot, salty and sour at the same time. At the base of the fan lay a salad of fennel and citrus. Together, the complementary flavors were just perfect ($10)
One cold and rainy night I dropped by for soup and salad. The soup was lentil, warming and slightly salty, loaded with flavor from the spicy sausage. It was one of the better soups I’ve had ($6). The salad was made of fennel, grapefruit, olives and a good feta. It was amazing, like the sun of the Mediterranean on a plate. I walked out with the weight of the dreary week lifted from my shoulders ($7).
The most recent time I visited Hula Hands, I had the leek and goat cheese soufflé with sauté of wild mushrooms, spinach, carrots and cippolini onions. The soufflé itself is small, but quite filling, and loaded with flavor. This is an earthy, winter dish. It arrives on a large plate, with an abundance of mushrooms scattered around the outside, and lots of perfectly cooked vegetables. This is another example of a dish that can be so pedestrian in a lesser chef’s hands made into something which stops conversation while you give your dining companions a taste. The overall result is much lighter than you might expect ($17).
The Carlton Farms pork shoulder with figs is another excellent choice. The bowl arrives with two large pieces of shoulder that are moist and fall apart with light fork pressure. The sauce is a shimmering dark brown, while the carrots and other vegetables provide splashes of color. The figs give a great burst of flavor, a reminder that summer will eventually return. Recently Hula Hands started doing a version of this dish with red wine and prunes, root vegetables and Anson Mills cornmeal. It is also excellent, and even though I’m not thrilled about polenta, this example won me over ($20).
For those with a simple meal in mind, a burger is available. It is better than most; a generous patty, slightly seasoned, with the meat cooked just as you ordered ($9.00). I like it with cheddar ($9.50), though it is available with a buttermilk bleu cheese and caramelized onion which was a bit too heavy ($10.50). The accompanying fries are addictive, served with the skin still on, crisp and salty. I’d get the burger just to have them, though you can substitute a salad.
The dessert list is small, but well executed. The blood orange upside down cake served with whipped cream was moist and dense, the caramelized brown sugar and orange topping adding a decadent twist to this classic dessert. A bowl of chocolate and banana beignets with coffee ice cream made me snap at my friends when they reached towards me with their forks; I wanted them for myself. They are served hot, shimmering with sugar in a little dipping pool of warm chocolate sauce. Bite down and you get an explosion of warm chocolate and bananas. This is perfect comfort food. Both desserts are $7.00. If you just want something warm, try the hot chocolate, made with a quality bar chocolate, it’s better than I have had in any other restaurant in town, and shows the attention to detail over the smallest things.
There aren’t many drawbacks to Hula Hands. They are firmly on my list of top Portland restaurants. Service is excellent, there when you need it, but not hovering. I love the upstairs with its romantic seats next to the windows. In the warmer months, a large deck stretches out from the back of the restaurant, providing a great space to while away a warm evening. Even better, it’s not difficult for a couple to have a really nice meal for around $60. One issue; Lovely Hula Hands is very popular. On many nights, expect a cramped wait in the entrance, only separated from the dining room by a sheer curtain. They don’t generally take reservations, though they will work with you if you have a large party, and don’t mind dining early. If you haven’t tried this restaurant in a while, go back, even if for nothing but a salad. It is a worthwhile stop for a special evening out.
- Phone: (503) 445-9910
- Address: 4057 N Mississippi Ave, Portland OR. 97227
- Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 5pm – 10pm.
- Website: LovelyHulaHands.com
Yup, it really is that good. On a recent blustery Portland night we found sanctuary in the lovliness that defines LLH. It was our first time in the new space and we couldn’t help but feel pleased that we still felt right at home. We were able to sample said focaccia, the souffle, a truly excellent ahi dish with kumquats, and of course the banana beignets. Who could resist? Simply put, the warmth of the menu, the space, and the LLH family make this restaurant a Portland gem.
It’s been some months since I’ve visited. You make it sound as if it has become even better than I remember it.
We were there just this past weekend; I knew the place was well-loved when it was packed by 5:20 on a Sunday night. Everything we had was delicious; the salt cod fritters were perfectly cooked and I could have eaten the pickled grean bean sauce with a spoon. I had duck breast with a blood orange sauce, and the duck was lovely. My hubby devoured the burger with happy noises and the fries were delicious, and just imperfect enough in size and shape to let us know they were handmade. While the beignets were warm and well-matched to the coffee ice cream, the dessert winner was hubby’s caramel-amaretto custard – an eggy flan-like custard in which the amaretto didn’t overpower the delicious caramel flavor. We left perfectly sated and very happy with the high quality food, good service, and lack of pretentiousness for such a good restaurant (this is key to keeping my burger-loving dining partner happy). We’ll be back, for sure.
We had a lovely evening at LHH. The highlight for me, even over the exquisite dinner, was the best Whiskey Sour I have had anywhere. I’ve nearly given up trying them anywhere else.
Congrats to Troy, Michelle, Sarah and the whole LLH crew; well-deserved. If I had any talent as a painter, which I do not, I would do one of the Salad God reaching down and touching Troy on the head. Really, they’re beyond compare. The rest of the food’s pretty transportive, too xx
Kevin Allman says
I wish I’d tried LHH earlier. It was the last “fancy” meal I had before I blew town, and the 8 of us who went (all of whom had wildly different ideas as to what “good food” is) were uniformly impressed. Everything was delicious, the dining rooms are feminine without being girly-girly (don’t ask me to explain that, but it’s true), and the service was a cut above most Portland restaurants.
Didn’t get why the leek and goat-cheese entrée is called a “soufflé” — it’s delicious by any name, but a tart is a tart. But it’s so good, and so simple, that it deserves to be LHH’s signature dish.
So many PDX restaurants remind me of those “American Idol” style female singers who are all five-octaves and melisma; you want to tell them to settle down, stop trying to show off, and just sing the damn song. LHH is the opposite of that — self-assured, understated, non-trendy, and just top-notch in all respects.
Food Dude says
cmm, you are totally right! I always try to mention the wine list, and it completely slipped my mind this time. I’ll update the review.
Nice review, but you neglected to mention that LHH has one of the best wine lists in the city. (Pet peeve: Why do people review restaurants without mentioning the wine list? Wine is, or should be, as much a part of the meal as dessert or appetizers.) The list is chock full of artisan wines (mostly French) at very reasonable mark-ups. Troy has put his stamp here, too.
I was lucky enough to be at Troy’s first night as Chef at Family Supper. It was the only meal I ever had there that was hands down, great! Each course flowed perfectly into the next and I made a point of expressing my delight and gratitude to Troy. I’ve run into him only a couple times since – and that’s been awhile, but he is always friendly and gracious. I am thrilled to see his cooking being showcased at LHH – it seems like a marriage made in heaven. While I’m not living in Portland right now, I know where I’m heading next time I visit and your review has made me think my visit needs to be sooner than later!
Ditto for me on the food. Double ditto on the wine list (lots of boring lists in town, and this is NOT one of them.) Thanks for getting our butts back into LHH, FD.
It had been way too long.
I have a chef crush on Troy McLarty…I have been a fan since he made magic at Family Supper and finally got to LHH for a celebratory meal last Tuesday. I wasn’t disappointed. I had the newly available buttermilk fried chicken, moist and salty perfection. I wish I had room for the carrot cake & cream cheese ice cream, but that will have to be next time. I almost fell out of my chair thanks to the pillowy foccacia.
So glad to hear that you finally tried LHH! I have read about Nancy trying to get you to try it for a little while now. It really is one of the best restaurants in town. Also: they just had a low wall built to separate the waiting area from the dining room downstairs, so that curtain is gone now. It works really well. I hardly get to go there anymore because it’s so popular and I can’t wait that long to get a table while paying a babysitter, but if you go either right at open or later in the evening usually the wait isn’t bad. Another lovely example of locals running a restaurant that is exactly what Portland needs. Why would anyone ever leave here?
I’ve been to LHH three times over the last 6 months…I noticed on my latest visit that the wine mark-up is more than a little high. The list is fairly extensive, but several NW bottles that you could get at your neighborhood grocery seemed to be marked up 120 to 150% over retail…I skipped it. At that mark up I’ll just stay home.
The menu on my most recent visit was uninspiring compared to my previous visits…maybe I’m just getting jaded, but I had a pedestrian penne with italian sausage…nothing to complain about, but it was like something I would make at home for myself after a long workday.
I had a terrible experience here tonight, enough to keep me from never returning. It started out fine, though we waited over an hour for our table. The server actually made some good recommendations on drinks. The food started arriving long after we ordered, in a staggered random order, a drink was forgotten, and an entree arrived several minutes after the rest of ours with no apology from our server. The food was okay, sort of unremarkable, but we were having a good time so no serious complaints yet. But things went downhill fast when the espresso I ordered at the end of our meal never arrived – when one of my companions mentioned it (to which I admittedly probably looked irritated), our server literally rolled her eyes as she walked away. When she brought the bill she acted as though it were a HUGE imposition to split the meal three ways. It’s not hard to divide the ticket of four diners, two of whom are together, even if you do everything by paper tickets. It’s not my job as a diner to do the math in my head. She kept insisting that we tell her the exact amount to put on each card instead of having kept track of who ordered what, and when we took a couple of minutes to do the math in our heads, she got really, visibly pissed off and flounced off while we were talking to her. After all of that, she and the others servers stood in back talking about us cattily and laughing, as if we were some sort of “problem” table. I’m a server myself, and I would get reamed -if not fired- for that kind of act and some diners would be getting gift certificates in the mail. I was amazed. I know a lot of people love it there, so maybe we just had a bad server? Ugh.
ams37……it seems like you had a really rough server as most of your complaints seem legitimate….BUT, as a server it is inexcusable for you to be pissed off about the check splitting. As a server you should know to tell your server at the beginning of the meal that there will be separate checks. Do you expect a server to remember what every individual in their station is eating and drinking? (I am sure that you were not the only table that the server was waiting on that night).
Point taken if the table were larger and we were ordering lots of cocktails or something – however that’s not the case and I think “inexcusable” is a bit off. Yes I DO expect that a server can keep track of a four-top with three entrees and two appetizers. And I DO expect that split checks are an eventuality that every server has to at least be aware of when dealing with four diners. The restaurant is small, and there is such a thing as a notepad in lieu of a computer system, on which you write which seat position was eating what. That is how it’s done universally. I will say also that we were not pissed off about the check-splitting, we were pissed off at being treated badly. But thank you for taking my comment seriously, nonetheless.
Also, I think she may have been more inclined to think about it a minute and ask which card belonged to whom -instead of the dollar amount per each card- had the rest of the meal not gone so badly.
Mostly Running. says
Not to pile it on, but I have to agree with themick. It is inexcusable for anyone in the service industry to ask for a check to be split at the close and then get cranky that the server wants to know exactly how much to put on each card. Let your server know at the beginning of the meal if you have to, but try to avoid the practice altogether. It’s just bad server karma.
Everything else? Sounds like bad service from a place I’m accustomed to receiving decent to excellent service from. Sorry to hear it happened.
I didn’t get cranky, the server did. And nothing changes the fact that she was unprofessional and frankly combative with four nice people who were left trying to do math at the end of a very long meal, not fast enough for her apparently.
Nancy Rommelmann says
Ams37 believes that in a restaurant where it was so slammed her party needed to wait an hour, that her waitress and the “other servers” stopped attending their tables in order to stand “in back talking about us cattily and laughing.” Tell me, ams37, what did they say exactly?
Slammed? 6 tables, Nancy. No seating in the patio. Give me a break, Nancy. If we were face to face talking about this, I doubt you’d be so snide. Or maybe you would, from the tone of your other comments. Way to be condescending, though!
ams37, would you be whining this much over a situation that seems just as much your fault as the server’s if your real name were shown, instead of a pseudonym?
Okay, flavor country!
Nancy Rommelmann says
Since ams37 chose not to answer my question, I’ll ask another, of the readership: when you pay your bill at a restaurant, do you monitor what your server is doing, or do you continue to converse with your party? I do the former. Apparently, ams37 does the latter. As to why, we have to assume — this, because ams37 has not answered my question as to what was being said about her, and so “cattily” — that her party was no longer interested in one another’s company; that what she was interested in was gathering ammunition with which to take to a public forum, which is of course her right; there are many disagreements on PFD, and they’re often both entertaining and elucidating. This does not seem to be the case in this instance.
As for LLH having six tables: there are eight upstairs, eight downstairs, and the patio was open last night, if not for the entire evening. Also, due to the restaurant’s perennial popularity, and the Oregonian running a piece yesterday on its burgers, LLH had what was, if not the busiest night in its history, close to. Which explains why ams37 had to wait an hour, as she mentions in her opening comment.
Also, ams37: you may be very sure I always stand by what I say, online or in person, and that I also use my real name.
Nancy – you’re absolutely right, I made it all up. But thanks for ganging up on me, since obviously it was all my fault as a diner. This is actually kind of funny now, thanks =D
For some reason, AMS37, I have a feeling the server might have a slightly different tale to tell. Just a hunch.
Nancy Rommelmann says
I did not say you made it up, and there is no excuse for being rude (meaning, a server’s rudeness). I asked that you substantiate the allegation that you and your party were maligned and laughed at by staff (“she and the others servers stood in back talking about us cattily and laughing”) to the point where you think it a potentially fire-able offense.
I’m glad that you found our exchange, if not last night’s dinner, amusing.
Pam – I agree, and I said as much last night. Sounds like you know something you’re not letting on. Funny my name got googled a whole bunch this morning. I think Nancy misspoke when she said this thread wasn’t elucidating. Okay ladies, I see how it goes around here ;) Bye bye!
Food Dude says
Moved the splitting checks conversation here, as it is cluttering up this thread. Back to LHH if you want to comment here.
sounds like an off night. i personally would not let one off night at a place turn me sour on it forever, but i’m a forgiving person with a long history of food service, and i know that everyone can have a bad night.
also, not that it’s excusable, but sometimes the chemistry with a table is just off. it seems like on some nights one table gets the brunt of everything that can go wrong in a restaurant. being out of the one thing that you wanted to order, forgetting a drink, etc. it seems to come in waves. too bad about the eye-rolling, but i’ve never had a bad server experience at LHH.
i find that, when making an annoying request as a customer, a little humour and a big thank you ahead of time go a long way. if you acknowledge that you’re asking for something time-consuming, irregular, or just plain picky, the request is more likely to be met with a “no problem” rather than an annoyed waiter.
I happened upon this thread via the splitting checks thread, but I wanted to give a little bit of credence to ams37’s experience by sharing my own from a few weeks ago. My parents came to town and I wanted to take them out to a nice dinner, so we chose LHH after hearing such great things about it since we moved nearby last fall. It was a Sunday night, but it was early, so the wait was only 20 minutes. From the outset the server seemed, well… a bit annoyed with us. My mom isn’t really a cocktail drinker, so she hemmed and hawed for a moment while deciding what to order, but that awkward 45 seconds doesn’t seem like it warranted the attitude. After putting our drink order in we sat untended for maybe 25 minutes before our drinks arrived. Of course we were ready to order, but our server indicated she’d “be right back for our orders.” 15 minutes later, she took them, although two items we had chosen were not available and we had to come up with replacement choices. She again acted annoyed, sighing and tapping her pen impatiently as we decided. I ordered the mussels, which were good, but came without bread (a necessary component of the meal, in my experience). When our server eventually came nearby, I had to flag her down and ask for bread. “We’re out of bread tonight,” she huffed. OK, fine. While she was at our table, my dad ordered another cocktail, which never arrived.
Overall, the food was decent. Nothing to write home about, but decent. The service, however, was not good. We’ll give LHH another chance eventually, but not for a while, I guess.
I was one of the members of the party of ams37 and I wanted to validate the fact that there was no discernible reason for our server to act the way she did and present you an update to the situation, in case anyone here is still interested.
Personally, I like to treat anyone performing a service for me as person not a slave. I clearly remember making a small joke at the time we ordered the drinks to our server, one that was innocuous and was meant to break the ice. Perhaps this is what put our server over the edge.
ams37 and myself sent an email to the owners of LHH to express our discontent and disappointment with the service as soon as we each arrived home. We received a rapid response from Sarah, one of the owners of LHH, to our complaints with a heartfelt apology and a promise to refund the cost of our meals. Although this was not something we had in mind when we wrote the emails, the refund was a gesture of goodwill and a way to heal a damaged relationship.
I would like, in closing, tell people that one bad server is not enough to deter me from ever returning to this establishment but it’s enough of a reason to avoid it for some time.
Food Dude says
Wait a minute… let me see if I got this right. You had a dinner with some service issues, sent an email and got a “heartfelt” response AND A REFUND, and yet still got on this site smearing the restaurant’s service, possibly costing them a large amount of additional money?
Ams37, what did you expect, a new car? They should close the restaurant? We get some incredibly idiotic comments on this site, and I rarely say anything negative about someone, but you have to be the biggest idiot EVER to grace these pages. You seem to be an example of someone who feels entitled to a perfect life, and when you don’t get it, you make sure everyone around you pays – in short an self-absorbed, entitled spoiled brat.
Food Dude… the apology and refund is a very recent development which occurred after ams37’s post.
It was a very frustrating experience and it needed to be made public in our opinion. No one forces anyone to read anything here or whether or not to go that restaurant. You speak as if the restaurant is going out of business because of two bad reviews. Negative feedback is a good thing if you do something about it in a timely manner, (which it seems LHH is going to do), if not, word of mouth will start costing you money.
Yes, we complain here so that people are aware of such things as poor service when making a dinner selection but we also complain to the people responsible for the bad experience. Had the manager been present at the site and heard our complains in person, we would have still posted here.
Is there a problem with posting our experiences here? I thought we were free to express our opinions, but I guess anonymity can be a wonderful thing to some people. I do not go around bashing people while hiding behind the internet so FYI, our complaints to the manager contained our full names and contact information. I can assure everyone that ams37s email to the manager was WORD for WORD what was posted in this forum, so there is no saying one thing and doing another on our part.
Sellwood Mafia says
You said it FD
What an idiot…
Probably the most disturbing aspect about all of this, from my perspective, is the apparent lack of full disclosure by ams37 unless the post was made prior to knowledge of the refund from Sarah (known that evening and probably prior to the original post at nearly midnight) or that message only made it to jm. But wait, ams37 surely was made aware of the apology/full refund over the course of the LAST FIVE DAYS. The rant just lost all credibility with me. I’m just pleased that the folks at LHH took the high road and let jm enlighten all of us about his/her friend.
Kim Nyland says
I gotta say…I totally appreciate the fact they did contact the owners/managers. Let them deal however they saw fit, kudos.
ams37 and myself sent an email to the owners of LHH to express our discontent and disappointment with the service as soon as we each arrived home. We received a rapid response from Sarah, one of the owners of LHH, to our complaints with a heartfelt apology and a promise to refund the cost of our meals.
I agree with JM that diners should be allowed to express what we choose. However, there are also the matters of decorum and transparency, things for which internet forums prove lousy gatekeepers. If, as JM wrote above, he emailed when he arrived home and received a rapid response, this should have been included in ams37’s initial post, or certainly when she found out amends were being made, which was the same day she posted; before or after I cannot say, though it doesn’t matter. Even coming back on later in the day to say, “well, this is how it’s shaking out” would have been the right thing to do, just as Sarah Minnick did the right thing when she found out about the diners dissatisfaction. By all means, let ams37 and JM post their experience, but why leave off the denouement? To prove they were right?
Thank you for your words. I believe that was an honest omission in the part of ams37, but after seeing the replies and comments posted after the initial posting, I can understand why ams37 would be distracted in defending the post and not be encouraged to update the situation with further posts. And one thing to note is that not one of those comments/replies asked if contact had been made to the owners of the restaurant. I guess people assumed that ams37 was just smearing the restaurant, which is not, to the best of my knowledge, true.
Kim Nyland says
jm…I’m one that gave thanks to ams37 for actually contacting the management & there is a reason for that. It seems it’s rare these days that an owner is notified…just when a friend tells you about it on the web.
I think the storm in the teacup is abating, finally!
Thankfully…. yes :)
My wife and kids took me to LHH for my fortieth birthday. We heard that Troy had worked at Chez Panisse and since it’s one of my favorite restaurants we decided to go. Now, I want to explain that I’m a chef, have been for about twenty years and have had the opportunities to sling the hash in some of the finest places in the country and some of the not so finest places in the country. But like a two dollar whore, I’ve been around a bit and have had the opportunity to have some incredible meals (Spago, Matsuhisa, Fifth Floor, and of course Chez Panisse) and some not so good meals (Denny’s at 3am in downtown Los Angeles)… Troy has a firm grasp of what it means to create really good food without any pretension. The food is executed with aplomb and having had the majority of the menu, I can say that there was nary a dud to be found. If the citizens of Portland desire a restaurant that serves food as honest as that of Alice Waters et al, I would say to look no further. The man can cook.
Anomic Entropy says
I just got home from my first visit to Lovely Hula Hands. It won’t be my last. I had the rosemary focaccia, pork chop w/spinach and gnocchi, and the lavendar creme brulee for dessert. Oh, and I also had the Talulah’s bathwater and Pink Pear cocktails. Everything was wonderful. We were seated immediately upon arrival. The service was outstanding. Overall a wonderful experience. I chose the restaurant mostly due Food Dude’s review. Thanks!
Food Dude says
glad to hear it is still good!