I'VE NEVER just walked out of a restaurant I was intending to review, and frankly, I never expected to.
But it happened at the Feisty Lamb, the new brunch and international "tapas" spot on West Burnside opened this summer by former Top Chef contestant Micah Edelstein (who was booted after three episodes in season three). Our party of two waited for 10 minutes to be seated, despite the small restaurant being maybe 70 percent full at 10:30 am on a weekend.
Once seated, we waited. And waited some more. Our water glasses were kept full by a girl who appeared to be no more than 12—Edelstein's daughter, I presume—but after 30 minutes of sitting, we didn't even have coffee. Forty minutes on scene and still no coffee and no ETA. Sitting under the brightly painted walls with umbrellas hanging from the ceiling (the interior screams Monica and Rachel's apartment, down to the softly playing Hootie & the Blowfish) we just couldn't do it anymore—not without some caffeine. We canceled our order and peaced out, without an apology or goodbye from the chef or the sole harried waitress.
Restaurants have bad days, and this anecdote would be a footnote in a review of a place that otherwise redeemed itself. In this case, the Feisty Lamb has a few wonder dishes, to be sure, but the bristliness of the atmosphere, slow service, small portions, and high price don't recommend it.
A recent dinner was again a practice in patience. Our party of two arrived at 8:20 pm, 40 minutes before closing. The lone waitress/hostess had to ask if she could seat us. "Only if they're not in a hurry," Edelstein said. We were informed she was in a "bad mood." We left two hours later, after eating a pretty darn good smoked lamb bobotie ($20), a dish from Edelstein's home in South Africa, which is a delightful spiced twist on meatloaf, with garam masala pecans and radicchio. A plate of the Ratatouille Renovation was gorgeous to behold, but provided three small slices of zucchini and grilled eggplant, woefully underdone and inedible, for a whopping $16.
Brunch also worked out okay in mid-September, sitting out back in the funky, eclectic patio. This time, after a wait, there was coffee, served in a manner new to even this Portlander, poured through two glass globes in a contraption Edelstein bought in Brazil. But the nifty gadgetry produced a liquid thicker than Turkish coffee, with undrinkable sludge at the bottom.
As the name suggests, the menu leans heavily on delicious baby sheep, including the Uncle Woolf's Brekkie ($19), a lamb shoulder chop, local farm egg over easy, pan-fried tomato, accordion potato, and wheat toast—a no-nonsense meal. Edelstein plays with local, seasonal ingredients, and in September had a single aged Gouda waffle with fig sauce, brown butter pineapple sage, and spiced pecans. At $13 and slightly larger than an Eggo, it didn't justify the price.
The signature Lamb Bacon Sarmie ($12), a potato roll from Fleur de Lis bakery with house-made lamb bacon, farm egg, roasted tomatoes, grilled greens, and pickled beet and carrot was the best thing I had, hands down. But it's not good enough to deal with this: A man requested his egg not have a runny yolk, and was denied. Edelstein promised Willamette Week in March that the Feisty Lamb would be "fun and frivolous," because "brunch is fun and frivolous." Then why so serious about a yolk?
Sure enough, this proclamation is on the menu: "We apologize for not taking temperatures, but we are not a hospital. All proteins are cooked to chef's specifications. We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone with a poor attitude." Guess she must never cook for herself.
Edelstein, who ran the worldly Nemesis Urban Bistro in Miami before coming here, has long been a divisive figure. Just as many people who agree with this review will also put me on blast over it, talking up the Feisty Lamb as a treasure. Indeed, at dinner, an older gentleman leaned into the kitchen to profusely thank Edelstein for her magical cuisine.
There are a couple of chefs around town known for their forbidding attitudes and strict policies—but overall, that's not really Portland's vibe. We tolerate the few chefs who act like this because their food is really good. But to stomp up in here and alienate your customer base from the get-go, without delivering the goods to back it up, is just absurd.
Dinner: Wed-Sat 5-9 pm. Brunch: Fri-Sun 9 am-2 pm. Don't forget, no substitutions or temperature specifications.