I'VE SAID IT before and I'll say it again: Quit yer bitchin' about Chinese food in this town. Seriously. Frank's Noodle House, Zien Hong, Szechuan Chef, Hot Pot City, HK Café, Wong's King. They're all there, serving up great variety for you ingrates.
Now we've got another one: BTU Brasserie. Mind you, purists will lay into the fusion elements of this menu, but I'd like to shovel just one bite of BTU's gloriously crisp, fried Buddha's "Beef" seitan ($13) in their mouths before they can start their annoying snark. The amazing texture and sweetly tangy finish on this dish alone could sell me on the place. Seitan now haunts my dreams.
What really brings home the braised pork belly: Two geniuses—chef Chris Bogart and brewer Nate Yovu—dreamt up this bizzaro gastropub/brewery/Sichuan haven, set up in a richly deserving neighborhood, and then decided cleavers make good wall décor. Kickstarters agreed, fronting more than $15,000 to help this little concept that could.
The brewery's first beer—an IPA, naturally—went on tap last week, joining a rotating list of local beers (Commons and Occidental have had strong showings) to wash down BTU's spicy dishes. The Out for a Rip IPA, for me, is drinkable, which is saying something about the quality and my hop-averse palate. My IPA-loving dining companion loved it, comparing it to the unimpeachable Fort George. Staff told me a rice lager is on the way soon.
Tuck into just a few orders from the front of the menu; it's the shakier half of BTU's offerings. It's made up of cold dishes, baos, and small plates (there go those damn small plates again). I appreciated the inclusion of tendon on the BBQ platter ($5), a nod to the restaurant's location on what I'm going to now dub "Pho Row™," due to the sheer amount of pho-focused establishments within walking distance. You'll do well to order the fried pie gao ($7)—soft spinach, tofu, and cashew in a crisped-up tofu skin. Skip the flavorless daikon salad ($5), and the green beans, simply for their miniscule portions. We ordered the beans as a table of four, and while tasty as all get-out, flecked with pork bits and fermented black beans, we each got about six beans each... for $7. Dude, that's like 29 cents a bean. If you're going to encourage family-style eating, serve enough for the family to share.
Head to the back of the menu to get to the real BTU—a nod to the British Thermal Unit used to measure heat levels—because this is where the spice (nay, the soul!) lives. Along with the Buddha's Beef, spring for the XO lai fun, short fat rice noodles swimming in slightly spicy XO sauce with veggies, shrimp, scallops, and Chinese sausage ($11). A sidecar with Laird's applejack brandy and five-spice simple syrup ($9), which I found to be too strong by itself, vibed with the Chinese flavors. The black walnut Manhattan ($9) had a sticky, syrupy quality that paired well with nothing.
The visible lack of actual Sichuan peppers in the Sichuan chicken ($13) bummed me out, but that sucker was still plenty spicy—just dodge the off-putting smoked cucumbers. The ma po tofu ($13) with ground pork had balanced flavor—sweet, spicy, and salty all melding into one happy bite. Crazily, they ask you how spicy you'd like your dish. Your answer should be "hot."
BTU has beer. It has spice. It's raucous and pretty full most nights, despite its newness. It is good Chinese food. In Portland. So there. Neener-neener, haters.
Lunch: Tues-Fri 11:30 am-2 pm. Dinner: Tues-Thurs 5-11 pm, Fri-Sat 5 pm-midnight, Sun 5-10 pm. Bar seating. Sweet-ass mural on the east wall.