THE BRITISH-THEMED "gastro pub" Fats is the newest in Micah Camden's Northeast Portland dining cluster, which also includes the Japanese-inspired Yakuza and the Italian-influenced DOC. The addition of Fats will tempt some to call the restaurants an empire, but like once mighty Britannia, Camden may have overextended. Whether it's a lack of focus or a lack of management, Fats' delicious food suffers beneath a chaotic dining experience.
If Doctor Who built a pub in the TARDIS I suspect it'd look something like Fats. Two walls of windows effectively mimic the doors of the Doctor's time-traveling police box. Another wall, sporting a row of alternating black-and-white telephones, is reflected in a back mirror, giving the effect of an interior space larger than the exterior.
The menu brims with comforting British favorites. Think satisfyingly warm and savory Welsh rarebit—a thick layer of melted cheddar over toast—or a smashing shepherd's pie with rustic mashed potatoes above hearty and tangy lamb stew.
The options are good, with few exceptions. A Scotch egg defies the traditional British version, sporting a soft yolk in the fried, sausage-wrapped egg. The yolk enhances the morsel, which arrives on the plate with a dollop of mild mustard and a dill-flecked microgreens salad. The effect is a hopped-up deviled egg with a brawler's attitude.
A plate of poutine (not actually British) thrills with crisp fries, a zippy gravy, and fine soft cheese curd, topped with a poached egg. Sharing with friends may reduce the guilt of eating the fatty mélange, if you can manage to keep from fighting over each forkful.
Chicken tikka massala ("the national dish of England" according to the menu) is brighter than similar traditional Indian dishes I've had, with heavy citrus in the curry and additional heat from sliced jalapeños. It's a small dish, but worth it.
Other dishes have minor flaws. The fish and chips are bland and under-salted; the batter on the filet is crisp on the outside but mealy and soft closer to the meat. The malt vinegar spray bottle is a nice touch, as is the fiery ketchup; the tartar sauce, though, has an odd, overpowering cinnamon/cardamom flavor.
The bangers and mash are decent. Flavorful mash is studded with potato chunks, but has an unfortunate gluey texture. Guinness gravy and the freshness of the sausage, however, save the dish.
I'd like to report on Fats' brunch, but the day I showed up to review it, after traveling across the city with friends, a note on the door proclaimed the place closed for the day. An inquiry as to why drew the response, "We couldn't get some stuff delivered"—or drive to the New Seasons several blocks away, apparently. I would've returned the next day, but frankly, the brunch episode was the last in a series of chaotic dining experiences, and I was fed up with the place.
My first evening at Fats found a perfectly delightful meal ending with a man, presumably Micah Camden, coming through the front door and loudly scolding his kitchen staff for the smell of burnt toast as he stalked across the restaurant. While it wasn't a Gordon Ramsay tirade, it was nonetheless unpleasant.
Another evening, service was so bad it was comical. After giving us menus, our server promptly ignored us for a while before returning to take our dinner orders. We had to remind him we might want drinks, this being a pub and all. One beer arrived in a ludicrously sticky pint glass. Another didn't arrive at all. Our server greeted this revelation with a grunt, and returned sometime later to find out what the original beer order had been.
Perhaps in keeping with the Doctor Who theme, our meal seemed to have been expedited through a time machine, with mains and starters arriving together well before other appetizers, and multiple courses for one diner arriving all at once. Our server was no help, because we'd just watched him leave the restaurant with no word to us. His flummoxed coworker's query as to whether we wanted dessert brought to our table—a table already covered with slowly cooling plates—was greeted with uncontrollable laughter.
Additionally, we weren't told until well into the meal that the kitchen was out of certain items, and empty water glasses were ignored.
I might have been willing to chalk it up to a couple bad nights, until I found the place closed when it should've been open for brunch. Luckily, it's easy to find a place for brunch beyond the Camden Empire. A short drive and I found a delightful smoked salmon hash at Helser's on Alberta. The service was great, and no one was scolded.
While Fats has very good food, and a killer dinner deal with four courses for $35, the chaos in the dining room needs to be tamed. It would do well if the place were injected with a bit of that English dignity the isles have always been known for... even after the Empire's fall.