EVERYTHING ABOUT Fillmore Trattoria is decidedly Old Portland: the menu isn’t pretentious; the electric guitars on the wall were hung by the ponytailed chef/owner; and the glass of decent Italian red is just $7. Except this is a San Francisco import.
What a difference a few years makes for this former home to Noisette and then to Le Vieux, which was a short-lived effort from another set of Bay Area transplants. But a hometown is about the only thing that Le Vieux and Fillmore Trattoria share.
Where Le Vieux offered overpriced, stilted small plates, Fillmore is warm, bustling, and there to feed you Italian-American calamari and veal. This will not earn it any awards or the hearts of the forward-thinking, but since it opened in late April, the restaurant has gained a loyal following to the point that you’ll need a reservation on the weekends, or hope for a spot at the bar.
Fillmore Trattoria is an offshoot of owner Jack Krietzman’s Jackson Fillmore Trattoria in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights, which he’s run since 1985. It seems that not much has changed in all those years, and it’s the lack of pandering to the sprouted quinoa set that makes it charming.
The menu’s broken down into snacks, appetizers and salads, pasta, and entrées. It’s worth snagging an item from each section for a table of two—the prices are low enough to leave full and not praying for payday (see the 10-ounce New York steak for $19).
There’s a stuffed artichoke ($12.50), a massive bread-crumbed veg brimming with prosciutto, garlic, and herbs, with a dish on the side for spent leaves. The complimentary bruschetta are a delight in heirloom tomato season—just diced red fruit, salt, and good olive oil on crunchy bread.
Three fried goat cheese balls over caramelized onion with honey ($4.50) are everything they advertise—a sweet blend of creamy but not too funky cheese with deep brown onions. The zucchini salad ($11), described as a carpaccio of sorts, could anchor any local, veggie-forward menu. Raw zucchini isn’t normally my bag, but the knife work renders it into a small julienne that’s laden with pecorino cheese and toasted almonds.
At Fillmore, you’re bound to see a lot of baby boomers with the odd family mixed in. Kids get plain noodles with sauce on the side, but this isn’t the type of place where they get a coloring menu either. Sitting outside on the small concrete patio is nicer than you’d expect, shielded by a tall stone fireplace from the nearby traffic.
Also great was the red snapper in spicy tomato sauce ($18.75), medallions of seared fish in a just-right peppery red lake that’s savory enough to spoon up on its own. On each visit our service was friendly, and Krietzman himself came out to talk vermouth at the end of one meal, blending a sweet and a dry Spanish vermouth that he said is his favorite on the rocks with a lemon twist. Next time we showed up, it was on the cocktail menu for $7.50. A dry Piedmontese rosé that’s always given a generous pour went from $6.50 to $7 over our visits—and this wasn’t happy hour.
A snack of filet mignon bites sounded better than it worked, $7.50 for three small nibbles of beef perched nonsensically on potato chips and drizzled with blue cheese. Similarly, a dish called “elephant ears” is actually a deep-fried chicken cutlet over greens and bitter radicchio with marinated heirloom tomatoes in purple, red, and gold (those are pretty good on their own), and blue cheese. It just doesn’t gel.
Dessert has some retro favorites, including tiramisu and both warm and cold versions of zabaglione, a liquidy, booze-spiked custard served in a glass. Nothing we had was essential to the meal, but none of it was a detriment either.
As restaurants in Portland get more and more like San Francisco—usually a code for overwrought, foamy, and ever out of reach for the masses—here’s to a few California spots like Fillmore.
1937 NW 23rd Pl
Tues-Sat 5:30-10 pm. Reservations accepted (and recommended on weekends).