IF THE TWO-HOUR-plus wait at Tastebud last Friday is any indication, the best advice an aspiring Portland restauranteur could probably get right now is: Go Southwest, young man (or lady).
Tastebud—the long-awaited amped-up iteration of Max Doxtader's bagel, pizza, and farm-to-table enterprise—opened in Multnomah Village in October, and the joint has been absolutely popping since day one. It's safe to say the young families who like Southwest's suburban vibe, and the old-money Dunthorpe class, are literally starving for a decent restaurant that doesn't require them to cross a river.
It's not just location. The mob of diners also speaks to how largely solid the new Tastebud, which closed its first location on SE Milwaukie in 2013, is out of the gate. Doxtader has put the kitchen in the hands of DOC and Nonna alum Jobie Bailey, who most recently stoked the stoves at the Firehouse Restaurant in Woodlawn.
Tastebud, like Firehouse, is a neighborhood spot that's worth a drive, with a pizza-heavy menu also featuring wood-fired entrees, a smattering of tasty vegetable dishes, and small plates. It's a warmly lit 45-seat space in the heart of Multnomah Village that overlooks the open kitchen.
After putting our party of three on the list at 6:55 pm on a Friday and being quoted a 90-minute wait, we knocked back a Breakside pilsner at nearby dive bar the Ship to kill time. We were not seated until 9:20 pm. This is not a complaint, per se: This is a warning to those with small children or anyone who gets hangry. We were given a delightfully mild bowl of marinated olives ($4) for our super-long wait time. Other weeknight lines were shorter, but not by much—hopefully, the plans to open seven days a week on December 14 will help with the crush.
Cocktails are standard. A negroni ($10) was oversweet, but a hot toddy ($9) came out perfectly balanced and wasn't cloying or over-spiced, as it so often is. The lengthy wine list is the better way to go, with a number of bottles below $35, including an Italian chianti for just $21. Chicken liver mousse ($6) gets a seasonal spin courtesy of a cranberry mustard sauce, with bagel chips to scoop it all up. It leads nicely into the kale Caesar, dripping with garlic and anchovy dressing ($6 small/$11 large), which also comes topped with (not nearly enough) bagel chip croutons.
Wood-fired pizza places have become more common in Portland than Scarface posters in a dorm—it's a trend I'd love to see dialed back a little. Often, they're overpriced petite pies that wind up burnt and floppy in the center. Tastebud dodges these pitfalls. Their pizzas are much larger than most of their scorched peers—a single pie, with salad and a few sides, can serve four. It arrives on a thicker, bagel-esque crust that holds up to the well-considered toppings. The only place this backfires is at the edge, where the toppings give way to too much crust to bother finishing.
The Simington ($24), piles soft goat cheese and mozzarella that strings out with each bite, topped with paper-thin sliced delicata squash and kale crisped up at the edges by the oven, while Mama Lil's pickled peppers provide a bright, spicy kick. The Yoder ($24) pairs jalapeños with a slightly sweet lamb sausage, parsley, and fresh mozzarella for a commendable, if not memorable, outcome.
I wish I could have traded the delightfully plump whole roasted chicken ($23) for the lamb chops ($26) we ordered. Two small chops were cast-iron grilled to tender perfection, but the accompanying marjoram and other aromatics caused one of my friends to ask why she was eating a bottle of perfume.
The roasted vegetables, however, were an all-around success: earthy broccoli made decadent by an anchovy-caper beurre fondue ($7) and vibrant beets with a bright orange-calabrian aioli ($7). And the apple and ricotta galette with a saba sauce and whipped cream ($7) is one of just two current dessert choices—its creative and not-oversweet filling with firm apples is an argument to expand the sweet options threefold.
It's only been a couple of months, and the word is already out to those stuck in the far southwestern restaurant desert that there's an oasis of upper-end family-friendly food. No wonder there's a queue. But here's a reward for reading to the end: The pizzas and salads are also available to go.
Wed-Sun 4-10 pm (open daily starting Dec 14). Brunch expected in the new year. Long wait; no reservations.