Terrific steak, prompt service, hip environment–that’s Portland, OR’s Urban Farmer.
There are plenty of good restaurants in Portland, Oregon, one of the nation’s farm-to-table hot spots. And the city boasts several high-end steakhouses where you can get top-quality meats. The Urban Farmer, an uber-modern farm-meets-city eatery in the Nines Hotel downtown, marries farm-to-table freshness and top-drawer steaks in a way that makes eating here a truly special experience.
Urban Farmer is tucked away on the popular hotel’s eighth floor. They’ve built the restaurant with a soaring glass ceiling with the upper floors of the hotel rooms looking into the dining room. The result is a light and airy space that’s unlike the usual dark, clubby feel of traditional steakhouses. The farm-meets-city ambiance is enhanced by creative décor–long communal tables, fun cow-print upholstered booths, wild reed-like plants, a video art installation of the city’s bridges at sunset, and a semi-private dining area lined with glass jars of house pickled fruits and veggis. With the strains of light jazz lilting through the space and wait staff decked out in all black, it’s a thoroughly refreshing remake of the modern steakhouse.
There’s a full bar and they feature craft cocktails, but with a twist. They offer barrel aged cocktails, a selection of pre-mixed alcohol and mixers aged for 21-30 days in small wooden casks. We tried both the aged and non-aged versions of The Boulevardier (The Boulevard), the classic French cocktail of bourbon, Campari, and sweet vermouth with citrus peel. What a difference aging makes! The 21-days in the cask gave the liquors a delightful roundness and a smoothness that knocked the edges off the alcohol. Editor Anne Weaver, who is not a big bourbon drinker said, “This could turn me into a bourbon fan.”
In the aged cocktail category, they offer The Boulevardier, Elixir Bianco (vodka, Calisaya Liqueur, Cocchi Americano, aged 30 days), The Red Hen (gin, Luxardo maraschino, rhubarb bitters, aged 30 days), and The T&A (tequila, Aperol, grapefruit, aged 24 days).
The Urban Farmer’s wine list is equally impressive, dominated by Oregon, Washington, and California wines. They also list several French champagnes and a smattering of international wines for good measure. We began with a lovely Poet’s Leap Riesling from Washington’s Long Shadows (Columbia Valley AVA) that was crisp and refreshing, not overly sweet or too dry. The chef sent out an amuse-bouche of super-fresh striped bass with crunchy chia seeds that paired beautifully with the Riesling. Later, with our steak, we opted for another Long Shadows product, Sequel 2008 Syrah, that was smooth and rich and met the steak with plenty of authority without being overbearing.
For a starter, we opted for the house made charcuterie, an impressive selection served on a board, that included paper-thin coppa, bruleed beef, succulent salty ham, rich duck rillette, smoky bacon jam, wisps of smoky duck, and a super-silky foie gras torchon. This mini-feast was served with spicy mustard, pickled veggies (too sour for our taste), crackers and crisp grilled bread. The bruleed beef was a bit too liver-tasting, but the other selections, especially the creamy foie gras and delicate ham, were a terrific display of the chef’s considerable skill with charcuterie.
Next came two, pillow-soft Parker House rolls and a sweet and chewy cornbread studded with fresh corn that’s cleverly baked in a can and accompanied by whipped butter. The fun cornmeal in a can illustrates Urban Farmer’s lighthearted approach to making this place feel like an urban farm.
Service was noteworthy throughout the meal. The pacing from our server, Kurt, was perfect—attentive yet relaxed, making us feel we had time to really enjoy each course. Additionally, he was well-schooled in the cocktail offerings, the wine list, and the menu choices.
The Urban Farmer specializes in serving the freshest ingredients prepared simply and the heirloom tomato salad illustrated this theme well. Chunks of peeled red, orange, yellow, and black heirloom tomatoes were paired with velvety avocado, pickled chanterelle mushrooms, and creamy, hand-pulled mozzarella with a few chunks of grilled bread. It was all dressed with a dollop of fresh basil pesto and a splash of good-quality lemon olive oil for a refreshing, from-the-garden taste.
The farmhouse vegetable salad tasted like grandma had tossed together with whatever veggies were fresh in the moment. Mine came with corn, cherry tomatoes, green beans, chard, carrot, and zucchini in a light, creamy dressing and served with a big piece of grilled cheese bread. It was crisp and chewy and made me feel healthier for eating it!
The meat-lover’s menu is divided into New York, Tenderloin, Rib Eye, and Butcher’s Cuts (flatiron and Porterhouse). Within those categories, they offer grass-fed, corn-fed, and grain-finished. Additionally, they feature Imperial Ranch Wagyu beef from cows genetically predisposed to yield highly marbled meat with higher percentages of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
There’s also a nod to those who don’t eat red meat with pork loin, half chicken, and duck breast as well as Alaskan halibut, scallops, and wild salmon. The restaurant is proud that they recently received their Monterey Bay Seafood Watch certification and are committed to serving sustainable seafood. They also offer nightly specials that include fish (the night we dined it was striped bass) and several steaks.
Since this is a steakhouse where beef is king, we opted for steak. But the choices were a bit overwhelming. Which to order?
Our waiter suggested the New York Steak Tasting, 6 ounce steaks that include Oregon grass-fed, Brandt prime corn-fed, Painted Hills grain-finished dry aged, and Imperial Ranch Wagyu. Now we’ve heard of wine flights, beer samplers, even dessert pairings, but beef tasting? This was a new concept and it’s brilliant. The tasting menu allows guests to sample and evaluate, side-by-side, different types of beef and determine which best fits their palate.
The steaks, which looked remarkably similar, were 1 ½ inches thick and perfectly cooked with a nice char. They were served on a small platter and we cut each steak in half for sampling. To our great surprise, each steak was delicious, yet distinctly different. The New York Steak Tasting proved an incredibly fun education for our palates.
The Highland Oak Oregon grass-fed steak had a drier texture and a prominent herbal flavor. We could actually taste the grass! The Brandt prime corn-fed beef from California was sweeter and juicier, but the flavor note was singular. The Painted Hills grain-finished steak from Oregon, which was dry aged for 21 days, had a fine, firm texture. It wasn’t quite as juicy as the corn-fed, and came with an earthy essence that took on a nutty quality as the meat cooled. The Waygu, our final tasting, was over-the-top juicy, beefy goodness. This is amazing steak for steak lovers and well worth the extra price.
Of course there were sides, but with the starters, salads, and fabulous steaks, they were largely ignored. (We took the sides home and thoroughly enjoyed them another day.) Urban Farmer offers a number of ala carte side dishes, all generous portions that easily serve 2-3. On our server’s suggestion, we ordered the twice-baked potato tart, which comes in an iron pan. This is a potato pie with uber-flaky crust filled with mashed potatoes whipped with aged cheddar cheese and studded with fingerling potato halves. It’s topped with the classic baked potato trio–sour cream, big bits of bacon, and fresh chives. It’s a fun and filling way to enjoy potatoes.
We also ordered a cast iron pan of fresh green beans with a chunky almond Romesco sauce and topped with fresh basil. The beans were cooked al dente and the Romesco sauce added a nutty depth with the basil contributing a fresh lightness.
Always Room for Dessert
We’d eaten half of our delightful steak, a bite or two of our sides and were sure we couldn’t fit in one more bite. The problem is Urban Farmer makes some beautiful desserts. How could we resist? We tried their Butterscotch Sundae, which comes in an old-fashioned, clip-style Mason jar. They make a Blondie brownie, top it with a scoop of house made chocolate chip ice cream, and add a thick, rich butterscotch sauce, tart cherries, and whipped cream. The result is crazy rich, gooey, chewy goodness. In fact, when Editor Anne Weaver became distracted by the Raspberry Soufflé, I finished off this bad boy in a flash!
The Raspberry Soufflé is the antithesis of the thick and rich Butterscotch Sundae. It comes in a little cast iron pot with the pink-tinged eggy top towering a full 1 ½ inches over the sides of the dish. It’s delicate, light-as-air, and full of intense sweet-tart raspberry flavor. It’s served warm with a creamy vanilla anglaise that the server pours into a small slice in the top of the soufflé. The silky texture and raspberry flavor make this dessert heaven for raspberry lovers.
Lest you think all of this deliciousness, ambiance, and great service comes cheap, think again. The menu is completely ala carte, meaning you can order exactly what you want, but it’ll cost a bit more. Also, high-quality beef and fresh, farm-to-table ingredients cost more. Urban Farmer’s steaks range in price from $32-80 (the 12 oz. Wagyu). The New York Steak Tasting weighs in at $60 with another $30 for the 6 oz. Wagyu. But it’s plenty of meat (24 ounces) that you can share with a companion and you’ll still have plenty of leftovers for lunch. The non-steak entrees are a bit less spendy ($27-36). With a drink or wine, you can easily come away with a $100 per person bill. Is it worth it? We definitely think so. And judging from the busy dining room on the Saturday evening we visited, plenty of other foodies agree.
Real Bottom Line: If you’re a steak lover, treat yourself to the best beef available at the Urban Famer. This restaurant has taken the high-end steakhouse concept to a refreshingly new level with updated décor and farm-to-table ingredients that will make the most discriminating diner swoon. With smart and knowledgeable wait staff, creative cocktails, and a wine list that will meet just about any wine lover’s taste, Urban Farmer is a winner and one that we plan to make a permanent part of our go-to restaurant list. – Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor, Photos Bobbie Hasselbring and Anne Weaver, RFT Editor