by Grant Butler, The Oregonian
So many restaurants are slaves to what's trendy. When foodies start gabbing about a suddenly hot menu item -- say, chocolate cake with a warm liquid center -- kitchens shift into panic mode, dropping last year's must-have dish to embrace what's du jour.
To be behind the curve, according to this mind-set, is to be irrelevant and decidedly uncool.
Executive chef Robert Kirby's fare focuses on upscale adaptations of classic bar-and-grill fare, heavy on steaks, lamb, and shellfish. Dishes offer few revelations, but inventiveness hardly seems the point: These are traditional dishes that comfort and nourish.
Main dishes are the real reason the Stockpot is worth knowing: Preparations are solid, portions generous and presentations pleasing, with nothing bordering on the architectural silliness that's baffled diners at other places recently. Lamb takes on some lovely permutations. A hazelnut-crusted rack of lamb is smoky and rare, paired with a slightly sweet demi-glace of sun-dried blueberries and red wine. It's only outdone by a simmered-into-submission special of fork-tender braised lamb shanks with a white bean mash. Other red meats also share a starring role. A special of rich veal osso buco is hearty trattoria fare, served with a veal demi-glace that has a thick caramel consistency and hand-carved steaks are a kitchen signature: choice cuts of New York strip, prime rib or filet mignon have been expertly seared to preserve the meat's juicy tenderness.
Lighter fare is equally enticing. A filet of Alaskan halibut is stuffed with crab, jack cheese, tomatoes, and herbs -- think of it as a seafood rendition of a classic chicken Oscar. And the menu's one nod to what's current is a real kick: Seared rare ahi tuna seems a world away from the golf clubhouse, but these thin slices are delicate and fragrant with sesame and ginger.
The Stockpot's best throwback to another dining era is its commitment to top notch service. Servers are seasoned pros -- vets who know the regulars, anticipate questions, hustle dishes to the table and never intrude on the dining experience with excessive chatter and overfamiliarity. While keeping a low-profile, they watch tables like hawks. Don't even try to reach the bottom of your water glass: It's not gonna happen.
While the trendy score their lemongrass tartlets elsewhere, the Stockpot's simple pleasures can be left for the rest of us.