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Untamed adventure awaits at Sauvage

Bread & Brew


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSOTT - The Bacon Wrapped Octopus, with Romesco and Pine Nut Ranch, alongside an Italian orange wine, is part of the enjoyment at Sauvage.Octopus is tricky. It has multiple ways of eluding predators in the ocean, and just as many ways of eluding chefs in the kitchen. It has an al dente texture — as satisfying in its own way as crunchiness or creaminess — that can easily cross the line and become rubbery. And its elusive flavor can just as easily disappear.

Cooking it correctly is a feat, but at Sauvage, lately, they’ve been serving octopus that is far better than correct — it’s luxurious. It starts with sustainably farmed baby octopi, each gone in two bites, with a perfect, tender springiness. Each is wrapped in a thin sheath of bacon and arranged on a platter scattered with sorrel leaves, dappling the plate with green and adding a dryly sour edge. To one side is a pool of savory, pepper-tinged romesco, balanced by the cooler, creamier taste of something called pine nut ranch.

Complex, balanced and colorful — it was a success all around, and not the only one.

This is food above and beyond what you would expect from a Southeast Portland wine bar, which is what, on first inspection, Sauvage appears to be. The prominent, salvaged-wood bar top, the large refectory table, and the wine barrels in the corner all give the space the air of a tasting room. A glass door leads back to an area where wine is, in fact, being made under the Fausse Piste label.

The winery has been in operation for more than a year, and in addition to its own viognier, syrah and grenache, the bar offers about 50 other wines, all available by the glass. Fausse Piste translates as “wild goose chase,” or, more optimistically, “off the beaten path,” which is a good description of the neighborhood.

The restaurant side, called Sauvage, and open since last July, also is flying under the radar. Many customers come only for the wine and the personal touch of the wine-loving staff. In a setting like this, you might steer clear of entrees that seem in line with a much more formal and upscale restaurant.

But if you’re up for something ambitious, so is the kitchen.

A steak dinner here is a rarefied thing. Wagyu, the Cadillac of cows, requires a delicate touch. Sauvage smokes it, maximizing depth and flavor while minimizing the ravages of heat. The meat was then quickly seared and thinly sliced, velvety and fine-grained.

It was served with parsnips, both pureed and mashed. With their dainty starchiness, they bore the same relation to mashed potatoes that the wagyu did to an ordinary steak: sweeter, richer and more tender. The crowning touch, literally, was a medallion of butter laced with extremely aromatic Oregon black truffles. Their exotic, persistent funk lingered generously over every bite.

There’s a certain hospitable disregard for efficiency here. Time is taken to cure coho salmon roe and to freeze a peppery granita with wine and shallots, all to garnish raw Oregon oysters. In fact, it was a little too much of a good thing. Too much ice kept me from tasting one oyster, and some of the others could have been more carefully shucked.

Gougéres, little savory cheese puffs, were light and mild. Their role was as a conduit for a yolky aillade — a plumped up aioli with a Marcona almond base, flavored with anchovies. Two milder Spanish anchovies were crisscrossed on top, and those bites were the best: pungently salty, tangy and creamy.

A pasta dish had fine ingredients that didn’t quite come together. The semolina gnocchi had a rustic texture that resisted picking up other flavors, while spring morels, very permeable, picked up too much bitterness from Brussels sprouts and kale. A buttery base wasn’t rich enough to tie it all together.

It was a bit spare, while the majority of dishes take a more indulgent turn. A duck egg is served with pheasant gravy, and Dungeness crab with foie gras. This clever and opulent cooking is a team effort from owner Jesse Skiles and three other winemaker-chefs: Nicolas Vernon Duff, Chris Vandersloot, and Jeff Vejr.

They seem to be exploring, and having fun doing it. The feeling is contagious. This is the kind of place you want to follow over time, to see what will happen next.

5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday, 527 S.E. Ash St., Suite 102 (enter on S.E. Sixth Ave.), 971-258-5829, http://www.sauvagepdx.com

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