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  • 20 Aug 2014

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Din Din themes about more than food

by: TRIBUNE PHOTOS: JAIME VALDEZ - Din Din, located in an obscure place in Northeast Portland, provides an enriching dining experience and features specialty food and drink, like pork cognac pâté with chanterelle pear conserva.As we were leaving Din Din, our hostess came forward to say good-bye. She was holding a broken wineglass by the stem. The cup was jagged and filled of shards of crystal. For a second, it seemed significant and sparkling, yet sinister, fraught with a mysterious meaning.

Actually, someone had just knocked over his glass with his elbow — commonplace enough at the end of dinner during which seven different types of wine were served. But this was the Strange and Familiar Din Din, a collaboration of artist Holly Andres and chef Courtney Sproule, where the food, memorable in its own right, was one part of a more all-encompassing experience.

After years doing pop-up brunches and suppers around town, Sproule recently took over a space just north of Burnside so out-of-the-way that it feels like going down a rabbit hole. We were greeted with kir royales — sparkling wine and blackcurrant — served at the white tiled bar.

Supper clubs are typically bare-bones affairs where it’s all about the food, only the food, no distractions. At Din Din, the room is very simple, with a few rows of communal tables, white chairs and white walls, but the simplicity isn’t a DIY statement — it’s a blank canvas for themed dinners that change every month.

In September, Andres was invited into the space. She created an environment that was part art installation and part party decorations.

Andres is a photographer who creates carefully staged scenes, mostly of girls and young women frozen in mid-gesture, with nostalgic props from the 1960s and ‘70s. At Din Din, we were surrounded by both the props and the photos.

Lace runners ran down the centers of the long tables, with perfume bottles, jewelry, pages from old cookbooks and a toy horse as centerpieces. As we wandered the room, gradually discovering connections between seemingly random objects, a server offered us canapés of pan d’épices, a dense nutty bread, topped with a miniature salad. They were followed by mousse served in eggshells, with tiny spoons. We were instructed to stir before dipping out the frothy mixture of maple sherry cream and salty steelhead caviar.

Sparkling rosé was poured into the French wineglasses that lined the table, and we sat down to plates of sliced tomatoes, showered with mild shaved cheese.

Next, bowls the size of teacups were set before us. A candied cherry tomato, a curl of bok choy and a little puff of créme fraîche were nestled into the dish. Servers came around with cruets of salmon fennel consommé, which was poured into the bowls, mingling all the flavors together.

The consommé was complex and vivid and, in general, sophisticated sauces and dressings were the highlights of the meal. A wild plum agrodolce, pooled alongside tender slices of pork, was dark and velvety, with a deep, rich flavor. Next to it, a pyramid of corn and garlic custard was a mild, delicate touch.

Huckleberry sorbet, meant as a palate cleanser, was so intense and boozy that it lingered on the tongue for a long time.

Venison, the second meat course, played second fiddle to a meaty cassis demiglace and a salad of bitter greens, figs, haricots verts, oranges and olives dressed in a lively green peppercorn aioli.

A sweetly balanced dessert wine appeared, and plates with mild crumbles of imported blue cheese, and sprigs of grapes drizzled with brandy syrup. Then there was champagne, fruit and chocolate: a kir truffle, bringing us back full circle to the first drink of the evening.

By this time, camaraderie was established at the table, and we were collectively surprised to see that three hours had passed since we sat down.

I know that some people avoid communal dining because they don’t like the idea of sitting with strangers, but here everything flowed graciously. Courses emerged from the kitchen almost too subtly — I would have liked to hear a little more from the staff about what we were eating and drinking.

And speaking of drinking, Din Din is no place for people who are avoiding alcohol. Even at brunch, which is served every Sunday, the menu includes things like espresso with grappa and a duck egg and asparagus omelet that includes a glass of wine in the price.

Light breakfast and lunch items are available during the day, and for October the theme is Din Divination, with a tarot card reader and a 1920s New Orleans speakeasy voodoo theme.

Expect more than just a few Halloween decorations scattered around; after a few hours at Din Din, you might start

believing in things that aren’t really there.

Breakfast and lunch 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; cocktail hour 4-8 p.m. Thursday; dinner 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday; brunch 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday; 920 N.E. Glisan St., 971-544-1350, www.dindinportland.com, dinners $45-$85

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