It’s hard not to mistake Portland restaurateur David Machado’s newest spot, Tanner Creek Tavern, for the in-house restaurant at the Pearl District’s Hampton Inn Suites. Not only is the restaurant adjacent to the hotel, the lobby connects directly into the restaurant’s bar. Judging from the number of carry-on suitcases in the bar, this is a distinction that few people care about making.
But if they’re expecting substandard fare, they will be surprised. The kitchen is helmed by Trevor Payne, a veteran of Portland stalwarts Little Bird and Olympia Provisions. On a dark and rainy Thursday night, in a dining room filled with concrete, metal and light wood that reminded both my dining partner and I of nothing as much as a garage, we couldn’t help but be a little surprised, too. “This is all really… good,” he said.
Dinner opened with whiskey cocktails, a sweet and refined Lownsdale Old Fashioned and a Smoke Signals. Our server recommended the deviled duck wings with saba; given Payne’s presumed prowess with meats, however, we opted for the lamb tartare and the torn fig salad with melon, burrata with popped sorghum and sumac honey. The tartare was enlivened with pops of salty olive and the crunch of nigella seed crackers, which gave the dish a Middle Eastern flair.
Seasonal figs are always welcome in my book, and the popped sorghum gave the salad a bit of unexpected texture. We followed the appetizers with the server’s recommended eggplant tortellini and the coulotte steak, which was the best steak that either of us had had for awhile.
On a cold and rainy night, it was the perfect warm and hearty meal — a perfectly cooked hunk of steaming meat, topped with melting English Stilton cheese butter and swimming in a beef jus. Pieces of braised shank and fingerling potatoes surrounded it. While I never would have thought to serve slow-cooked beef with the quick-cooked kind, they complemented each other — and gave me something to do with my fork while I was waiting for my dining partner to finish slicing me a piece of steak.
And for a dish with supposedly lighter ingredients, the eggplant tortellini was also surprisingly rich, served with tomato butter and a smoked ricotta salata. The tartness of the whole grape tomatoes pierced the richness of the butter, filling your mouth with juice.
The pernod pot de crème with lemon curd and cinnamon rye cookies was an appropriately light dessert after a meal like that. And as is par for the course with any of Machado’s restaurants, the wine and beer list was very well curated, with wines ranging from New Zealand to Argentina and our very own Umpqua Valley. The beer list included a lighter pilsner from Crux in Bend, Oregon, and a kölsch-style ale from 54º 40’ Brewing Co. in Washougal, Washington. I was happier to see more obscure selections, like the gluten-free Ghostfish Brewing Grapefruit IPA, but I couldn’t bring myself to try anything heavier with all the meat in my stomach.
The tavern’s name refers to an actual creek, that flowed past an old tannery built by Portland original settler Daniel Lownsdale in 1845. Today, that creek still flows beneath Portland’s trendy Pearl District, ending up in the Willamette River. Here’s hoping that the tavern will last just as long and that by the time summer rolls around, Tanner Creek will be able to roll up those great glass doors and let diners enjoy their meaty dinners in the sun.