A few months ago, Gotham Bldg. Tavern made a pledge to act more like a tavern than a restaurant.
I’m not sure what that means, because a three-bone stand of Roast Marrow Bones with Bitter Herbs and Grilled Bread ($11) and Local Mushroom and Truffle Pot Pie ($18) are rather sophisticated dishes for the standard version of pub grub.
Then again, owners Naomi and Michael Hebberoy aren’t your average food-concept couple. In the past few years, they have changed the dining-out culture in Portland, and if you want a bite, you have to be game for their innovations.
They started Family Supper, a word-of-mouth, by-invitation-only family-style dinner. Clarklewis, a place in a revamped southeast Portland warehouse on a 1910 loading dock, opened in 2004 to raves that speak to its fresh, creative food and its novel approach to eating. You can order food in small, medium or large portions and leave the dish choices up to the talented chefs. They started that as well.
Hebberoy, not one to sit on success, plans to launch a seasonal gin for Medoyeff, a brand which servers push at his places if you order a martini. In the works is his book tentatively titled “Kill the Restaurant,” which challenges assumptions about the culture of dining out.
So figure you’re in for something new and different at Gotham Bldg. Tavern.
With room for about 50, and wood and driftwood sculpture throughout, the place is more intimate than clarklewis and closer to a pub than any other Hebberoy creation. But don’t be fooled. As the items on the menu suggest, Gotham is not just a tavern in a renovated building on Interstate Avenue in Northeast Portland.
For one, the chef is Tommy Habetz, a former sous chef of Mario Batali. And Gotham is much more a “gastropub” offering inventive dishes than a bar with peanuts on the floor and an omelet and meatloaf on the menu.
Order the New York Strip Steak and you’ll pay $36. The $36 includes a choice of two sides such as Horseradish Potato Gratin or Ken’s Bread and Sweet Cream Butter. Even the burger is as far from your plain-old greasy bar hamburger as Hebberoy is from a desk job.
The GBT Burger ($10) with aged cheddar (add $1) and smoked bacon (add $2), served on an English muffin, is truly a great meat sandwich. Its partner is everything you could want from a tavern: a glass of house-made fries, some with skin on. The fries are presented as a bouquet in piece of newspaper and then fanned out in a glass. You can stop right there, but of course we kept eating.
The Aged Gouda Fritters ($6), light and crisp, sent us to starter foodie heaven, as did the Local Beet Salad with Satsumas and Feta ($8). The fresh ingredients and their combinations taste so good, so deep in flavor.
Despite well-thought-out flavors and pleasant though unpretentious presentations, not everything at Gotham is worth raving about.
For one, the nonstop music is for rockers who love their tunes loud. Really loud. We asked a polite server to turn down the volume, and he said sure, he’d do that.
Did he? Not that we could discern, but maybe we’d already gone deaf. Sure, this is a hip place for the younger set with a bit of discretionary income, but does every place that wants to be a scene require ear-splitting ambiance? Trust me: If loud music isn’t your favorite dining pal, you will be miserable the entire evening unless you bring along your noise-canceling Bose earphones and intend to eat with them on.
Though noise is endemic to some taverns, fresh fish is not. We gave the fish of the day (sometimes whole, but not tonight), a whirl. It was not close to fish ‘n’ chips.
The grilled cod, sturdy-bodied with a crunchy crust, was draped in a sauce of saffron aioli too rich and fancy for my tastes. But the housemade chorizo, smoky paprika and roasted potatoes nestled around the fish dish gave it spunk.
That steamy pot pie with truffles and local mushrooms ($18) sounded better than it was. Then again, I admire the innovation on the rustic dish, and at a dull knife’s point, would have finished it off.
The menu changes seasonally, not every night, but you can usually depend on a roast chicken ($20) and something exotic like Tagliatelle with Uncle Margaret’s Chicken Liver Ragu in small ($9) and large ($15) portions.
One dessert transported us on the night’s final trip to food-lovers’ paradise: The Chocolate and Banana Bread Pudding with Burnt Sugar Cream ($7) beats every bread pudding I’ve tried in these parts other than Hudson’s Bar & Grill’s in Vancouver, and they use brioche for theirs.
The Ginger and Apple Crisp topped with Maple Ice Cream ($7) left us at one of heaven’s outer circles, but we still ate every single spoonful.
The tavern serves a creative lunch menu, a bit lighter than dinner’s. The burger and fries hold places on the lunch menu ($10-$12), as does a Slow-braised Beef Brisket with Sherry Onions and Aged Gouda ($8). You get the idea. Club, turkey and roast beef aren’t the sandwiches du jour.
Breakfast offers such things as a Fried Egg Vermont Cheddar Sandwich ($5), a fresh doughnut with Meyer lemon marmalade ($3), and Biscuits with Housemade Sausage ($4.50)
I’ve not yet made it to Gotham for breakfast, but if the morning meal measures up to lunch and dinner without the headbanger music, it could start the day off better than it did for the ” wise men” of the legendary Gotham village, about whom, the story says, were in fact quite foolish.