Sometimes what makes a restaurant work is a mystery. On its face, Normandie isn’t all that different from the restaurant that was there before, Rue.
Both draw French inspiration but are far from orthodox. Both also do much with seafood and seasonal vegetables—and yet Rue folded after about 18 months, having never found an audience. Normandie, like a hermit crab, picked up Rue’s old shell, added global flair, and is packed with patrons just six weeks after opening.
This isn’t to detract from Normandie, but rather to celebrate its ability to make it all click.
Take a plate of miso glazed carrots ($10), roasted and topped with honey and sticky-sweet cashews. That’s a recipe for a one-sided treacly bite, but there’s also a generous wedge of funky Humboldt Fog blue cheese and mint to pile on the fork. The result is an addictive blend of textures and flavor—a great example of what makes Normandie hum.
Owned by Chef Heather Kintler along with Veritable Quandary alums Judson Winquist and Amanda Cannon Winquist, Normandie has a menu focused mostly on small- and medium-sized plates, drawing heavily from East Asian cuisine but also trotting to India, Northern France, and Portland bakeries. It seems like it would all be too much for one meal, but instead it’s a lot of fun.
You can go from toasts buttered with sea urchin and Japanese tobiko (fish eggs), to a fried croquette stuffed with savory oxtail and topped with apricot marmalade ($13), then to Frenchy steamed mussels with a kick from Italian sausage without getting too much taste bud jet lag.
Sautéed prawns ($11) seem like they could get overwhelmed by a dukkah spice made with peanut and Aleppo pepper, a generous dollop of mint yogurt, and pickled onion and radish, but instead they hold their own as you use their tails to scoop more on top.
There’s a fish-forward focus at Normandie, but I thought their rustic efforts were best—especially a surfboard-sized family-style platter of cured pork ($37). A true table dominator, shredded pink pork is crusted on the edges like carnitas, then served in big piles with soft kabocha squash, whole leaves of tatsoi greens and apple slices, and sticky peanuts. I was thrilled for the leftovers.
This has been a good year for new burgers, and Normandie’s enters high on the list. (Literally—Oregonian critic Michael Russell awarded it number three of 2018’s best new burger crop.) At first, it looks like one of those sandwiches you’re going to have to unhinge your jaw to eat, but the two tempura-style fried onion rings and the grilled brioche bun mash down nicely. It’s all juicy melted alpine cheese, slow cooked onions, and mustard glory from there. I’d like to shake my old-Portland cane about $14 burgers that don’t even come with a side, but the craftsmanship behind this burgery pleasure won’t allow it.
Two dishes out of the vast array we sampled were total misses: A “cabbage wedge” salad ($14) had nice buttermilk dressing and bacon lardons, but a giant wedge of mostly raw purple cabbage, core included, required more use of the steak knife than our actual steak. Four-to-a-plate seared scallops ($32) sadly arrived rubbery and without sear, and was lost in a whirlwind of five garnishes. Pass.
The cocktail menu is obsessed with calvados, an apple brandy from the Normandy region of France. I honestly liked it best served straight next to a miso caramel ice cream for dessert, as the cocktails themselves skew too sweet. Also at dessert, the carrot cake ($10) is a sleeper hit, with ginger beer and yogurt sorbets scooped in between individual small spiced cakes drizzled with apple butter and candied smoked pecans.
Normandie’s atmosphere is warmer than Rue (and darker—there will be at least one person shining their phone flashlight onto a menu as well as your retinas), which is a good thing in this concrete-based space built below new apartments. While I admit I’ll forever miss Rue’s poster of naked Burt Reynolds hanging over their kitchen window, I’m more excited for the future titillations Normandie will undoubtedly have in store.