Over the Christmas holidays, while Mama and I were in Portland, Ore., visiting my two 20-something sons who cook for a living, we dined out when they weren't cooking for us at their apartment. One of the best meals out that I had in Portland was at the 3 Doors Down Café, in the Hawthorne District, east of the Willamette River. And it wasn't good just because Lamont and Leland cook there.
For almost 11 years now, long before the arrival of either of my sons, owners Dave Marth and Kathy Bergin, along with their small but dedicated and talented staff, have been wowing diners with their interpretation of Italian cuisine. The restaurant has the reputation of changing the menu according to what is fresh, whether it's from purveyors of local Pacific Northwest ingredients or others from across the country.
My appetizer was translucently thin slices of Bosque pear topped with slivers of green onion tops, cut on the bias and sprinkled about, all cloaked in lightly melted fontina cheese and sitting on crostini, finished with white truffle oil and reduced balsamic vinegar. Crostini means little toasts in Italian; the slices of ciabatta bread had been fried for a few seconds in olive oil.
Picking up the large, serrated knife, I sliced off a small bite. Smiling, chewing slowly, I savored the sweetness of the pear with the bite of the onion. How well they complemented each other. Combined with the crusty bread and the melted fontina, they made an unforgettable dish.
My entreé was an egg-washed Atlantic fluke with roasted fingerling potatoes, sauteéd spinach and button mushrooms, in a lemon beurre blanc. I ordered it because I wanted to try something totally unlike what I eat at home—fried catfish.
The Atlantic fluke, a flat fish flown in from the East Coast, was lightly dredged in flour, then egg washed and pan sauteéd in a sauce of white wine, lemon juice and butter—that's the lemon beurre blanc—before being baked in the oven. Once it's done, it's taken out of the sauce, placed on a heated plate while the beurre blanc is thickened a bit more, and then returned to the sauce and plated with the rest of the entreé. One bite, and I was sold. I hated not to eat every morsel, but dessert awaited.
Last summer I had my first slice of banana cream pie at 3 Doors Down. I'd been waiting six months for another. The crust is graham crackers combined with butter and bananas, pureéd with brown sugar, and mixed together to a stiff consistency so that it will just hold a mold. The cream is equal parts heavy cream and milk, 12 egg yolks, sugar, corn starch and the scraped inside of a vanilla bean. Whisk the ingredients continually over a medium flame until the mixture reaches the proper consistency—Lamont said until the whisk makes ribbons of filling that hold for a second. Then the crust is filled with alternating layers of cream and slices of banana. The cooled pie is topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings and drizzled with caramel sauce. All I can say is it's best eaten slowly, savoring every morsel, licking your fork even. Oh, and a slice is big enough to share, so don't be a total pig.
3 Doors Down Café
1429 S. E. 37th Ave.