Don't be surprised if you haven't heard of Filbert's. Though it opened in November of 2005, the high-end bistro has largely flown under the radar, in no small part because of its location: NW 23rd and Vaughn, well beyond Nob Hill's chic influence. The restaurant is near a freeway entrance, in an industrial part of town; but rather than embrace the grittiness of the 'hood, Filbert's does its best to replicate the moneyed Nob Hill aesthetic. They partially succeed: The restaurant is located in a cute converted house, and the ramp up to the entrance is covered by a viney trellis. But there's not much you can do about traffic noise at an intersection this busy—the patio is especially loud. Inside, the effect is "business casual," from the gold and purple color scheme to the Hawaiian shirt-clad customers. But this is business, PDX style: Filbert's is committed to using local and sustainable ingredients whenever possible. You'll certainly find meat and potatoes on this menu, but it's likely that the meat is hormone-free and the potatoes organic.
For an appetizer, we dove into a steaming bowl of plump, briny mussels. The tasty little buggers were served with a rich, garlicky white wine sauce, and while we almost didn't make it through the huge portion, we used our bread to sop up every last bit of the flavorful sauce. (The bread, incidentally, comes with filbert butter—a surprisingly light, but distinctly nutty spread.)
The dinner menu is geared toward the carnivore; on our visit, the token vegetarian concession came in the form of risotto with lemon and peas. The risotto sounded intriguing—but since the menu highlights meat, we ate meat. The pork chop was succulent and perfectly tender, served with a rich corn spoon bread, and a peach chutney added a tangy kick. This simple, unfussy preparation highlighted the quality of the meat. The New York strip steak came smothered in grilled onions and peppers; underneath the veggies, grill marks criss-crossed the perfectly cooked steak. The chef obviously has a way with a hunk of flesh, but unlike the pork chop, the steak's accompaniment was uninspired: grilled veggies and a few potato rounds aren't going to turn any heads in this town. (Props for selling happy beef, though: Cascade Natural means antibiotic-free, vegetarian cows.)
Unfortunately, problems arrived with dessert. The crème brûlée, which our waitress promised would be "amazing," was anything but. The crust cracked briskly (à la Amélie), but once through the caramelized top, our eager spoons found only disappointment. Served room temperature, the alleged "custard" resembled an insipid white paste, gummy where it should have been silky. The chocolate chess tart had structural issues: The too-thick hazelnut crust overpowered the chocolate filling. I can't think of the last time I left a dessert unfinished, but I had to walk away from these two.
It's unfortunate that in my memories of Filbert's, the mussels and the lovely pork chop have almost been eclipsed by the desserts. If I'd had my meal in reverse order, I would have left fat and happy. Instead, I left fat and grumpy, wishing I'd saved room for some gelato up the street. As always, choose your desserts wisely.