While settling into a post-birthday dinner at Tailor with my friend Sherri, conversation turned to her recent Portland excursion. I am from Portland. She is not. I was wowed by all of the photos of trendy restaurant food she had taken because it’s not my Portland. It’s not that upscale dining didn’t exist pre-1998 (though the food scene has hipified radically), it’s probably more that I tended towards the “grubbin’” side of cuisine. Horrible, horrible word, but it conveys the message: cheap, filling drunk/stoner food, exemplified by rice-filled (abhorrent) burritos big as your forearm.
To say Tailor is anti-grubbin’ is an understatement. Which isn’t to say that it’s not enjoyable. If price were not a concern, I could’ve sampled peculiar ingredient combinations on plate and in glass all evening long. It’s fun. I even gave into a bell pepper dessert (not so the bell pepper lemonade), despite the sad vegetable being on my bad side (strangely, the green menace had also shown in my Pret a Manger gazpacho at lunch earlier).
Cocktails, kind of Tailor’s selling point, were an immediate must. A lightly sour, gender-neutral hibiscus 7up, rye and key lime beverage for me and the insane prettiest pink Bazooka, that yes, relies on bubblegum liqueur and tastes exactly like it looks though maybe one notch less sweet. I do wonder where the color comes from. Could it possibly be natural?
Despite ultimately sharing, I picked out the veal, which came thinly shaved and cured like prosciutto. The whiter more gelatinous spheres were marrow, rightly rich and fatty, the denser orbs were composed of parmesan. Once again I was taken with color, apparently so much so that I can’t even recall what ingredient created the intense emerald green swoosh. The culprit was obviously herbal and tasted like a shot of wheatgrass. Paired with huckleberry drizzles and purple leaves, the result was pleasingly foresty, nothing like this scary forest.
Coriander-crusted sweetbreads were more straightforward and creamy almost like foie gras. A salsify base was neutral while the beer foam added bitter punch.
There are very few things more compelling than pork belly. Normally, those fatty striated slices would’ve been my first choice but the starchy component of “skate frites” snapped me to attention. Tater tots would’ve been good enough on their own because I love them (though not quite enough to craft a vest from Ore-Ida bags). But purple tater tots?! This had to be seen. To be honest, they didn’t have much flavor but they came atop a pool of ketchup and well, the looked pretty cool. The skate was formed into scallops and accompanied by a mayonnaise tarted up with malt vinegar and pickled shallots.
If mixing and matching were allowed I would’ve tossed a few purple tater tots into the pork belly bowl and created a giant plate of awesome. The butterscotch miso is the perfect blend of caramely and savory, almost like a salted palm sugar. I can see why Dale copped it for his own on Top Chef; unfortunately, it led to his downfall. Even the addition of artichoke made sense when bathed in this sauce.
I’ve said it before, but I am fairly conservative when it comes to desserts. Herby granitas and poached fruit bum me out. But that’s primarily because they’re unfun. I don’t really mind cerebral as long as I’m entertained. So, I gave into the bell pepper cake with cornbread ice cream topped with a pea frond. I mean, it makes sense that this trio would be compatible. Cornbread is frequently sweet and cake-like anyway. This could just have easily been a starter.
In some ways, the kumquat confit finisher was more challenging because I have a hard time associating deep, brown European caraway and pumpernickel flavors with sweets. All it needed was the addition of dill or sauerkraut and I might’ve lost it. The candied fruit paired with thin crisps and earthy rye-like ice cream made me think of what would happen if I took my usual Wasa crackers and slathered them with jelly instead of laughing cow cheese. I don’t think I’ll do that anytime soon.
The flavors of these two cocktails have merged in my brain because I was drinking them at the same time (don’t ask). On the left is a maté sour using yerba mate and while tea-like at first, an astringent, not unpleasant dirt-like aftertaste stuck with me later. The other is a blood and sand using scotch, sweet vermouth, cherry ale and an orange foam, which was smoky and orange peel bitter.
Tailor * 525 Broome St., New York, NY