DESPITE BEING brand-spanking-new, Verdigris is the kind of old-school spot where every savory dish, without fail, arrives with a smattering of chopped parsley on top.
Before I tell chef Johnny Nunn the '80s called and wants its plating back, I have to say I kind of respect the parsley's appearance, like herbaceous fairy dust, on almost everything we ordered. Context, here, is everything. Nunn last worked at Brasserie Montmartre and helped open RingSide Fish House; both downtown restaurants are solid, but neither blaze culinary trails. As such, Nunn's first solo effort is a conservative-leaning French-inspired Westside restaurant transported to NE Fremont.
This is not a spot for the food glitterati, who are all busy jamming the joints 30 blocks east. Instead, Verdigris joins likeminded restaurants on the same block, like tried-and-true Acadia and the stalwart County Cork. No offal, no foams, no nonsense.
Verdigris is ideal for (1) a good brunch with friends who have kids, and (2) an improving, but overpriced, classic dinner. It's done in an intimate space with good service that seats no more than 35 or so—not too loud, with an open concept so as to encourage canoodling and lingering.
Now, back to that parsley: It first arrived on beef bourguignon ($20), a tower of potatoes, house-made bacon, carrots, cippolini onions, and a big hunk of tender meat. Rightfully so, this timeless dish has remained in some form on the menu since opening. Nunn's take was well seasoned yet understated.
Green flecks of herb also topped the pasta du jour, a cream-sauced linguine with clams ($26). It was a heavy-duty dish—all dairy and no sharp salt or acid notes to break up the decadence. Riding my bike home afterward was a digestion MISTAKE.
For March's Portland Dining Month, Nunn let eaters choose an appetizer, entrée, and dessert from the entire menu for $29. It was almost impossible to get a reservation (and no walk-ins). Why? In this case, the deep discounts. With entrées ranging from $18-32, it's a damn steal to get two additional plates for almost the same price. Now that it's April? Getting a reservation is easy-peasy.
This is where Verdigris will struggle. The choppy execution at dinner service isn't worth the hefty price tag. The presentation of the Idaho Trout en Papillote ($25)—served dramatically still smoking in parchment paper cut open by a waiter tableside—is far more memorable than the small fillets inside, topped with citrus butter and (more!) parsley on a bed of cippolini onions and red potatoes. Still, the presentation of the grilled baby octopus salad ($12) wows, with two whole, slightly chewy cephalopods floating on perfectly cooked white beans, Spanish chorizo, and... PARSLEY! It's a classic flavor combination and worth a try.
The small blunders in the kitchen don't carry over to the wait staff. Each was attentive, good humored, and willing to recommend a glass of wine from the ample list of bottles—very few of which are available by the glass. There's also a full bar, but no cocktail list, and beer comes in bottles and cans only.
Menu issues are minor at brunch, where it's possible to score a great meal without a line, and with the option of making a reservation.
I'd go family style here to maximize sampling. Get banana bread pudding ($5) or the fluffy ricotta pancakes ($10) for the table to share; the latter made oh-so-good with house-made ricotta, Chantilly cream, caramel, and almonds. Also pass around a plate of duck fat-fried hash browns, a crispy wonder amped up with brown butter hollandaise ($6).
Sixty-minute sous vide eggs, with a texture similar to poached but somehow more delicate, are hit with—you guessed it! Parsley!—before nestling over Smithfield ham and more of those duck fat hash browns ($13). And it's too bad a recent offering of braised rabbit with eggs ($13) is off the menu—bunny for breakfast was one of the more adventurous choices I'd seen at Verdigris, plus I loved the flavorful brown broth.
After all that parsley, though, it's a wonder it's not sprinkled on the check. Viva la herb garden.
Dinner: Wed-Sat 5-10 pm, Sun 5-9 pm. Brunch: Sat-Sun 9 am-2:30 pm. Reservations accepted. Full bar, wine, beer. Not a ton of vegetarian options.