Feeling Simpatica...

I tried to come up with a snazzy title for this post based on the subject, but I'm just not feeling that creative today - so this is a play on the Italian word simpatico, which means friendly, sympathetic, in synch with one another, et cetera. It's basically a catch-all for good vibes.

Which, once I think about it, makes a ton of sense for the latest restaurant we visited. The subject is Simpatica, a caterer and dining Hall in southeast Portland. This place had come to our attention through various food blogs and websites, but to be honest it scared us a little. It's a place where you make a reservation and pay your fee for a set menu - if you don't like something, too bad, don't come.

It's ironic that's a bit imposing to me as a diner, because if I ran a restaurant that would be 100% ideal.

Simpatica is a caterer in the daytime and this one-menu style of restaurant on Friday and Saturday nights (reservations required), then open from 9-2 for brunch on Sundays (no reservations unless you are 8 or more in your group).

It's kind of a crazy setup, but it's apparently not that uncommon - other Portland restaurants (like Beast to name one) follow roughly this same format.

It's an odd way to get into a restaurant too - very cloak and dagger. First you can call for a reservation or send an email. If no one answers, you leave a message. Then someone calls you (in both cases) and you give them your credit card number for your party, essentially holding your spots. If you don't show up they charge you, but will give you a gift certificate for the cost.

The cost is also variable, depending on the menu.

Some of the menus in the past have been very exotic and we aren't necessarily exotic eaters, though we are expanding our horizons. No tripe or other untraditional meat items for us just yet...

Last Friday the menu looked simple, yet tasty. Three courses, $30: a salad, their signature cheeseburger, and then brownies and ice cream for dessert. This seemed like a good time to jump in with both feet to this style of dining, and the price wasn't too bad. So we made reservations.

We were told to show up between 7 and 7:30pm, so we of course got there are 6:45. After wasting some time listening to tunes in the car we walked in and happened to be the first ones there.

The dining hall is not a large place by any means - if full it may hold 40 people. This was not a full night and there ended up being only 19 of us. The tables are a mix of picnic table style and regular dinner tables, but grouped together to give a community feel. Part of the kitchen is open to the dining area so you can see in if you have the right angle from your seat (we did not). There is a mix of concrete and black and white brush paintings on the wall, with reserved lighting to give it a slightly modern but still homey feel.

Starving, I ordered a Black Butte Porter to take the edge off. While we didn't order any, Simpatica seemed to have a pretty decent wine list as well as a few beers and a couple non-alcoholic drinks.

Before the food was served the chef came out and explained the menu a bit, telling us where certain items came from and some of the thoughts behind the planning of the courses. I suppose it was interesting a bit, but to be real honest my stomach was caving in - bring the food!

The first course was a Romaine salad with green goddess dressing topped with local Dungeness crab. I have to admit, this was one of the best salads I have ever had. The crab added some nice saltiness to the leaves. I had also never had that dressing before, but I'm looking for a recipe.

The main course came out next. Served on a nice roll, the burger was a good size and came medium rare. For me that's nice, but Wifey likes her's cooked a little more. They were accomodating - we asked when we came in if we could get it medium well and hers came our perfect for her. We struggled with whether or not to ask - the last thing you want to do is annoy the chef by asking for something special, especially a change to his creation and how he wants it presented, and especially in a place like this where the menu is set. Still they did it and did it well.

The burger came with housemade bacon (thick and excellent), aioli on the side (creamy and yummy), zucchini pickles (honestly, couldn't tell the difference or even really taste them), and aged white cheddar. The cheddar as very good so we asked where it came from. Turns out it's a Wisconsin cheddar that is cave-aged locally, but not available to the general public - some brand I have forgotten. I tend to do that with things I can't have.

It also came with fresh french fries on the side - not too crispy, not soggy at all. Just right.

By the way, we thought about taking pictures, but in that group environment I felt a little weird doing that. Maybe if we had our own table. Or maybe I just need to get over myself. Maybe next time.

By this time I'm getting full - and Wifey only ate about half her burger and she's full too - but dessert was coming. And it was fabulous.

Two triangles of a chocolate brownie - which we think was flourless, but weren't told that - served with wild strawberry ice cream they made on site. I'm not exactly sure what made the strawberries wild, but they were pretty damn good with big chunks of berry mixed with a very creamy vanilla ice cream.

I'll be honest here - it was very good, but I think either there was too much brownie or not enough ice cream. I must be getting old to be complaining about dessert, but I could honestly have gone for slightly more salad and half the amount of brownie.

Not that I needed more food or anything - I rolled out of there. Hard to do upstairs - getting out of the building was tough.

I will say, that was the best burger I have had in a long-time and we had a great time. Will we go back? Absolutely. In fact, our next brunch may be right back there. It's a nice place for a group of people because of the atmosphere too.

Though, it will be a couple weeks at least. The two pounds I gained overnight need to come off first - and take some of their new friends with them.

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